Facebook is a great place for small businesses and startups to stay in touch with their customers online. In fact, there are many other social media tools that can help SMEs get around the big revolution that is the social Web 2.0. Fika Cafe is a new food place, serving Swedish food in a quaint district of Singapore. Fika’s on Facebook too and the subject of my case study.
The Attraction of Swedish Meatballs
In all honesty, I had earlier started on a post about how Fika Cafe excites me with its niche business idea: halal Swedish cuisine in Singapore, a rarity indeed. Couple that with a major culinary disappointment for Muslim food lovers/hunters over the years: Ikea’s Swedish meatballs (they contain pork which is forbidden in a Muslim’s diet). Because those who had them, have been talking about them for years! It is a gilded gap in the market and Fika is on to it. Fantastic so far.
Then something happened. My close friend (whom I had introduced to Fika via Facebook) had a confirmed reservation (made in person!) double-booked, 20 mins before breaking of fast (its the Muslim month of Ramadan). She was turned away with mere apologies. What really didn’t sit in well was the fact that the staff who attended to her did nothing more than merely saying “really sorry”. There was no attempt to find a solution, or have them on priority once a table clears or to simply ask for contact info to make up for what happened. So when I stumbled on a fitting post by Fika in my FB stream, I left a note about this matter. I kept in mind to be as objective as possible, as I care that a new business will need all the help it can get to tread the 2.0 waters. Click on image below for an enlarged view of my comments, captured earlier.
Fika did reply to my initial comment and so did others. Some in support of Fika and others who agreed with me. Fair enough, but I was really happy that Fika responded and engaged. It showed that they are savvy with this.
So, this was a new story that I wanted to blog about, so I began drafting a new post to say how well Fika Cafe has done in connecting and engaging its customers/fans online via their Facebook Fan Page. I was impressed with this, the direct replies to their FB fans, the genuine concern and their public promise ‘to make it up to me’. (However, at time of this post, I have not heard from them. I am still interested in a friendly chat.)
While trying to get screen captures for this post, I discovered something which made my heart skipped a beat. My comments on Fika’s Facebook page were deleted! There were at least 6 other comments in that deleted post. Another fan’s post, an ‘Erin Syahnaz Bangi’, which touched on her disappointment of a recent visit, was deleted too, along with 2-3 other posts from Fika’s fans, in response to me, who commented on the excellent service and experience they had received.
(Click to enlarge view)
The realisation that I, along with others, was censored in free speech didn’t feel good. Not at all.
Nonetheless, I do agree that Fika is free to do as they wish on their online properties.
Voices in the Social Economy
We are all aware that the online identity is an extension of your offline self. Same goes for a business. More important than online commerce, it is a PR tool. Hence, all conduct is scrutinised, a recent case in point being Microsoft’s Photoshop fiasco. Therefore, I can only conclude that it is important for businesses to remain open and transparent with customers or stakeholders, especially when engaged in social media. Any discernible actions deemed negative will be amplified and passed on to the next listener.
Is it any good to be all too transparent? In the age of corporate social responsibility (CSR), this is all the more important.
Again, let me use Zappos as an example. Try visiting twitter.zappos.com. Any mention of “Zappos” by anyone in Twitter-verse gets streamed on this page. Good or bad, its all exposed and open. They have an Employee Tweet page too. With 474 tweeting employees to date, you can certainly have a feel of what goes on in Zappos HQ.
What Went Wrong
In Fika’s case above, censoring comments is akin to saying “thanks for chatting, noted, but let’s keep these away”. If there is an open Facebook Fan Page to comment on, then these comments should stick. Be open, but consistency is important too. Also, what are the justifications for deleting these comments? I personally believe comments are delete-able only if foul language, personal insults or insensitivity to religions are involved. Otherwise, its fair game. And if there’s a real need to delete, then send a note to explain the action and why it is necessary. Be accountable for action, a CSR mandate.
Perhaps the comments struck a nerve with someone at Fika. But the only way to respond to bad criticisms is to respond positively (remember word-of-mouth is powerful.)
This is the problem, in reality, Fika did really well in responding and very positively at that. The Fika comments would have been a good positive indication of whom the people behind the brand are. To me, they seem genuine and honest. But regrettably the comments have all but disappeared. I can’t show them to you and I can’t speak more good things about them. Its an opportunity lost for free and good publicity.
Here’s a quote from Seth Godin’s ‘Spare No Expense’: ‘The way around it, I think, is to set expectations early and often. If you’re going to give me your phone number, you better answer it. If you’re going to offer a warranty, you better honor it. If you position yourself as a company with real people eager to make every single person happy–you better deliver.’
PS. Still looking forward to some halal Swedish meatballs.