The recent incident that played out on Ravelry concerning Trendsetter’s copyright violation serves as a great case study in what to do when your company or your brand suffers a social media crisis.
In a nutshell, Trendsetter was accused of stealing the design for the knitting pattern, “Wingspan” from designer Maylin Tan. They said in an email to the designer that they had made minor changes to the pattern and had consulted a lawyer which they felt allowed them the use of that pattern in kits and selling it in a booklet. Designers cried fowl and the crisis played out in the designers group on Ravelry.com—a forum for the fiber community. In the end, Maylin felt that Trendsetter resolved the issue to her satisfaction with a donation to a charity of her choosing.
Here are a few of my takeaways from this incident:
First and foremost, this crisis is a harsh reminder of the power of social media. When stakeholders have an issue with your product, your brand or your company, the negative backlash can spread like wildfire, causing major damage. Being prepared means not only having an internal company policy on how to deal with a social media crisis including who will respond, what you will say and how you compensate aggrieved parties. There are many social media articles online on how to prepare a plan.
When crisis hits, too many people ignore the issue hoping it will just go away. The first 24 hours of a crisis is the most critical time period to respond. “Trendknitter” (the owner of Trendsetter Yarns, Barry Klein) replied on Ravelry after 117 posts had gone up about the issue but still on the same day as the crisis hit. Although his comment about “everyone shares patterns” put him a bit deeper in the hole, I do give him credit for his quick response. Overall, his response was good because he was apologetic, sincere and admitted wrongdoing.
Had Barry been my client, I would have recommended that as soon as Trendsetter became aware of the posting on Ravlery, he should have jumped in with an official, personalized, sincere response without a lot of details. A good response could merely have included three elements: Admit the mistake, Apologize for the mistake, Describe intended process toward resolution. “We are aware that we have made a mistake in our use of the Wingspan pattern and want everyone to know we are truly sorry for the pain and suffering this has caused everyone. We are working with Maylin to resolve this issue quickly and to her full satisfaction”. This may have been effective in quelling the growing mob mentality that ensued without providing all the nitty gritty details which ended up being picked apart by the objectors.
Further, although it’s extremely difficult to see your company facebook page plastered with negative comments, it’s worse to delete posts. Instead, I do recommend that an official company response to every comment showing your commitment to sincere dialog and resolution of the issue. If you’ve got to delete something (such as the original offering of the pattern) then do so with a follow up comment so that it does not appear you are hiding something. In Social media, forthright communication is always the way to go.
Have a strong tribe
In the new world of social media, the voice and opinions of your customers can be MUCH more powerful than the voice of your company. If you don’t have a tribe of evangelistic supporters, you’re going to flounder when crisis hits. In a perfect world, Trendsetter would have been working to build an engaged audience of loyal knitters, crocheters, designers and other industry leaders who could have helped defend Barry’s (maybe not his action, but certainly his character and his inarguable commitment to the industry) and may have made an impact in the final analysis.
With only 2K facebook fans and no presence on Ravelry whatsoever, there was no tribe to step in when the mayhem started. Moreover, Barry could have also TURNED to the tribe to get feedback on this issue before he got into trouble with the designers. For example, he could have done a poll on Facebook or just posted a question about this pattern and accepted use in the designers group. Remember that having a strong facebook or Ravelry following is not always about converting that engagement into sales—it’s also useful for valuable feedback.
I might also add that having a strong tribe does NOT abdicate your responsibility to respond as the CEO or leader of the company. Again, I applaud Barry as the owner of Trendsetter for responding sincerely using his own profile account and in his own words. I’ve seen more than one instance where the “company spokesperson” (Knitpicks anyone?) has been the official voice of the company which further alienates that company from the customer and just makes the mob more angry.
Mark the end of the crisis
When there is resolution, be sure that you post to indicate the END of the crisis. This encourages everyone to move on and achieves closure for everyone. In this case, a moderator posted on behalf of Maylin that the issue had been resolved to her satisfaction with a donation to Knitters without Borders. She also noted that Barry had asked her to post a reply. Both of them might have been better served if they had done their own posting to indicate that the crisis was over and that both were happy with the outcome.
Get help if you need it
I hear it all the time, “I just don’t GET Ravelry (or facebook or twitter)”… and that is not an excuse for ignoring social media. Yes it’s confusing, Yes, it’s time consuming, but if you’re like most people I talk to in the yarn and knitting industry, you’ve spent years building a business, a brand and a product or identity you want to protect and grow. Don’t risk what you’ve worked hard to build by ignoring social media.
The Wool Wide Web is a marketing consulting agency that specializes in helping yarn and fiber companies build a social media presence. They can be reached at 719-539-3110