penance a public service, I volunteer as an administrator for a locally-based Facebook group. Today I witnessed a social media meltdown which could have been avoided at several turns. In an effort to help others avoid these pitfalls, I’ll walk through what happened. It’s long, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned (see the bold print). Plus, there are lots of pictures!
The group currently has 4,837 members. That’s more than any of our other local Facebook groups, several of which were started as (angry) spinoffs from this group when members disagreed with admins. Some of the other groups are dedicated to marketing and commerce, both by individuals (flea-market-type groups) and local businesses. As an additional local digital marketing resource, there is also a Facebook interest list to round up all of the local businesses and organizations into one virtual place. Because this group is the largest and most active, however, local businesses have found it the place to be.
Though there are established group guidelines, there had still been some recent discussion over how tightly the reins of the group should be held. What should be the group’s policy on advertising? Should new posts be moderated by the admins, or should members be free to post whatever they like? Should multiple posts on the same topic be edited down? As one might imagine, with a group this size, it is difficult to develop consensus on anything.
Amongst the day’s usual posts about impending weather, local news, and an occasional lost pet, a few local business owners posted about their goods and services. Some businesses post more frequently than others. One local crafter often hawks her wares, including luxury purses, handmade wreaths and decor several times a day.
On this day she was offering a cute pink Coach purse for sale. (Sadly, I was not quick enough to screenshot the original post before it was deleted, but the image above displays the merchandise in question.)
The seller had claimed to have purchased the item for $350, and was now generously offering it at the low low price of $225, though she assured us that it was worth $400.
After the post had been live for a while, apparently a group member posted a reply indicating that she had found the same item elsewhere online for much less than the seller’s asking price.Via private message, the seller challenged the group member, asking what her problem was. Before the member could reply, she had been blocked by the seller.
The group member felt unheard, and that the seller had been unfair. She posted a screenshot of the comments as a new group thread.
There was discussion.
Much discussion, including the seller’s husband, who warned group members against posting comments about well-respected business owners and made a thinly veiled threat about potential legal action.
One commenter boiled the matter down for the group. Assuming the screenshot offering that identical purse for sale online for $109 was accurate, the seller must be either, at best, oblivious or at worst, unscrupulous.
Around this time, a new thread appeared in the group. One of the things good neighbors do is look out for one another. This member took it to heart. A second person posted a clearer screenshot of the item at CoachFactory.com. Some education about the nature of luxury purses, and of course, more discussion, followed.
One comment proved to be a bit of foreshadowing. See if you can spot it.
The seller’s all-too-frequent posts come back to haunt her.
This discussion has now been going on for hours. Understandably, the seller loses her patience. She does offer to speak to anyone with an issue, but by this time it’s too little, too late. She closes with an insult intended for anyone who cared about the issue.
Yet another member believes that the lady doth protest too much. The seller doubles down by affirming (despite the typo that appears) that the asking price was no mistake. A member calls the seller out for her “unprofessional and strange” behavior.
Another member expresses surprise that the seller is still at it.
This group member was kind enough to delete her comments, giving the seller the benefit of the doubt.
A voice of reason tries to bridge the warring factions. The seller relents a bit, protesting that she felt she had to speak up for herself. Then she’s crushed again by another unsatisfied customer. Our voice of reason reminds the seller that she won’t be able to separate her business from her online actions.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the group, someone has spotted one of the seller’s earlier posts hawking another purse. After the day’s events, group members go over it with a fine-toothed comb.
Hoping for a possible sale, the seller gets used-car-salesman friendly again. It doesn’t last. After the events of the day, any prospective buyer would be hard-pressed to trust the seller.
Another member does a little cyber sleuthing and comes up with some damning evidence. Apparently she has spotted an item for sale at a big-name online retailer. If the links are to be believed, the seller has relisted the item in her Etsy shop, unadorned, passing it off as presumably handmade by her.
The Etsy listing (which disappeared quickly):
The retailer listing:
If the screenshots are to be believed, this item is being sold at a 300% markup. Not too “shabby!”
The allegations persist when the Etsy item in question is spotted pinned to the seller’s Pinterest board:
So to recap, the seller belligerently insists that her pricing on a designer handbag is fair, even after a Google search finds that the asking price is over 200% higher than the going price for the item. A second item appears to be an original designer handbag, but the seller has allegedly failed to make clear that the item is actually a knockoff. Further research finds that the seller may have allegedly purchased a different item from a big box retailer and passed it off as her own handiwork, commanding a 300% markup.
The natives remain unconvinced.
There is a valiant, yet tactless effort to defend the seller’s actions:
Personally, I have no doubt that she makes handmade crafts. However, her mistakes involved the way she marketed these three items online.
The seller has now indicated to one of the other admins via a private Facebook message her intent to “file charges on some of [the group members].” She petitioned the admin to “Please take action to inform them for slander charges,” because she had been blocked by the members in question, and could not do so herself. The admin advises her to sit tight and let the firestorm blow over.
Less than two hours later, the seller joins the ranks of those in the group seeking recommendations for trustworthy local businesses.
Luckily for our heroine, not everyone pays attention to what they read on the internet.
Next time, we’ll recap the lessons small local businesses can learn from a debacle such as this. I also polled group members to find out how they reacted to the day’s events. The numbers just might surprise you!
Now I want to know from you: what are your reactions? How would you handle a situation such as this? Leave a comment below!