How to lose customers and alienate fans on Facebook

Shoe_wordFor all businesses, a crisis can happen at any time, with social media, the opportunity of a crisis going viral and negatively affecting a brand can be a major consequence. All businesses need to learn from others past mistakes to reduce the chances of them happening to you.

Recently Australian shoe retailer shared the following post on their Facebook page which angered a number of fans of the brand.


While the post did gain quite a few ‘likes’, at the same time it offended a number of Tony Bianco Shoes fans who felt the post was sexist. Alienating customers by referring to women as bitches, and as one commenter stated ‘depicted women as mad decision makers with no sense.’.

In light of the numerous negative comments about the post, Tony Bianco Shoes responded to one person with the following post:

Hi. In no way was this quote ever intended to be offensive or put a negative light onto women. We just found it incredibly relatable, and thought others would relate to [SIC]. Have a lovely day. TB x.

This was a questionable way to respond. When women are your target audience, the question arises to how and why an organisation would want their brand ‘related’ to a misogynistic meme, even if it does contain an element of humour. After this single reply no further comments were posted by Tony Bianco Shoes, despite a number of fans ‘liking’ the original comments flagging the negativity of the meme posted. In this instance the post by Tony Bianco Shoes flew relatively under the radar (albeit alienating a number of customers in the process). It could have gained traction and blown into a social media disaster like that which Brisbane women’s clothing brand ‘Black Milk’ encountered last year when they posted a meme featuring Amy Farrah Fowler, the ‘nerdy girl’ character played by Mayim Bialik on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ that sparked a reaction from the brand’s fans who felt the post was sexist.

While Tony Bianco Shoes first response was an apology of sorts it sounded like they were telling fans their feelings didn’t really matter and to get over it. This is how the Black Milk social media and PR incident started (although it did escalate due to questionable moderation and banning of page fans).

Lessons learned

Having a Facebook page for a brand can be a difficult balance between creating and sharing content that will obtain a reaction as well as engage your audience to over-stepping the mark and offending customers.

Some key take-aways from the above case study that will help you organisation to better manage social media interactions with customers:

1. Courting controversy, whether intentionally or not, is always a risk.

While Tony Bianco Shoes did achieve a high level of engagement (over 750K likes and 150k+ comments) the age old adage ‘any publicity is good publicity’ does not apply. While being overly cautious to sensitivity can lead to boring social media content, when evaluating what to post and share on Facebook it is important to consider ‘would any reasonable person find this offensive?’.

Looking at the meme shared by Tony Bianco Shoes it is reasonable to think women (the brand’s target audience) would likely find the post in poor taste.

2. Have an escalation procedure in place for customer backlash or complaints about Facebook content you post

An escalation procedure allows moderators to take a step back and get a second opinion on their planned response. The procedure may be as simple as asking a colleague their opinion on how best to respond but for most organisations, it would require the social media moderator to gain sign off on a reply from a member of the managerial team prior to posting.

The reply given by Tony Bianco Shoes seems to be have been written by a moderator in order to address the issue and move on. A carefully crafted reply which gave fans a sense of validation may have been more appropriate.

 3. Ensure responses to complaints are meaningful

Following on from the previous point it is important the response is not just lipservice- ‘we thought it was funny, you obviously didn’t, get over it’. Failing to give a meaningful response to negative comments can further intensify an issue rather than addressing it.

Your fans are your customers (or potential customers):- brand loyalty takes a lot of work to build but very little to lose.

 4. Consider whose posts you share

The meme mentioned above appeared on social media site Reddit sometime before it was posted by US musician Paz on Facebook. Tony Bianco Shoes then shared this post. While sharing posts on Facebook can be a great way to generate content and drive engagement it is important to remember that when you share content you are creating a brand association with the original poster.

While Paz’s page is not particularly offensive it does contain other items of content which could be seen by some as sexist or in poor taste. It is important to ask yourself – is this what I want my brand associated with?


How could this situation have been handled differently? Other than by not posting the meme in the first place, moderators on the Tony Bianco Shoes page could have addressed the complaints by apologising, admitting that the post was in poor taste and resolving to uphold a more positive attitude towards women in their posts. They could also have closed out the incident properly. Aside from the one response from the page moderator the issue was left hanging and planned posts were published as scheduled later on in the day.  This lack of resolution likely further alienated the fans who complained about the post. Make sure you have a Crisis communication Plan that looks at all these issues, because a crisis can happen at any time. The best thing you can do is be as prepared as you can be, know what voice you want your brand to have and be consistent in the messages you deliver. A crisis is not the end of the world, but how you resolve a crisis can lead to the end.


The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect those of my employer.

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