A Melbourne small business owner says “it’s been a nightmare” after she posted criticisms of neighbouring business Lentil As Anything on Facebook last week.
After Lentil As Anything opened a restaurant next door to her business, Rebecca Freer, owner of The Raw Store in Thornbury, became annoyed at the number of smokers gathering on the pavement outside.
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In the end she took to Facebook to complain the restaurant’s “pay as you feel” pricing model “attract[s] an odd assortment of misfits including drug addicts out of their mind, smokers, homeless people, vegans, hippies and anyone else wanting ‘free’ food and coffee from morning and night.”
“I don’t want to be a grumpy neighbor but… could they hang out inside instead of on the park bench in front of my shop!” Freer posted.
Freer told SmartCompany this morning she lives behind her business and has a four-year-old son who is an asthmatic.
She first approached staff at Lentil As Anything about the smoking issue but then says she made the mistake of posting criticism on Facebook.
“It was one of those really stupid things,” she says. “I was overwhelmed with the smoke and had a rant and stupidly, thoughtlessly made a mistake.”
Freer says she then received comments saying “evil b*tch” and “shut her down”.
“It was so aggressive and so violent some of the comments,” she says.
Freer then attempted to post an apology on Facebook but this only attracted more criticism.
“Fair enough if my post offended you but that does not give you the right to abuse me, to swear at me, and to purposefully try and damage my business”, she posted in the apology.
Freer says after the apology she shut her business Facebook page down.
“My apology probably made it worse,” she says. “The worst thing you can do in these instances is flame the fire so I just shut it down.”
Freer says her criticism was a mistake and small businesses need to be careful of the comments they make on Facebook.
“On Facebook you think you are talking to your community, and when it goes out to a broader audience that doesn’t know you, it is misconstrued,” she says.
“My advice would be to have a separation between you as a person and as a business. Really you need to be more careful about thinking about what you are saying.”
Freer says she has emailed Lentil As Anything’s owner and made an apology.
SmartCompany contacted Lentil As Anything but the restaurant declined to comment on the story.
Social media expert Dionne Lew, chief executive of the Social Executive, says small businesses can make legitimate criticism on social media but offers the following advice.
1. Be careful how you criticise
“Legitimate business criticism is fine,” Lew says. “We don’t have to censor ourselves just because it’s social media, but it’s how you go about it that is important.”
2. Criticism will be amplified
“If you go to a social platform, you need to understand there will be that amplification effect that will be both positive and negative,” she says.
“The problem with a rant is that sometimes it will not necessarily be helpful.”
3. Be prepared to apologise
Lew says it’s a shame Freer had to shut down her Facebook page despite her apology.
“I think it’s important when we do make a social media mistake to apologise,” she says.
4. Know when to take it offline
“Think about what it is that you are saying and what is the best channel for dealing with that particular communication,” Lew says.
“Sometimes it is best to take that communication offline. Sometimes it is about a knock on the next door neighbour’s door.”