How Not to Handle Bad Publicity
Herkko Hietanen wrote a reclamation about the bad service he and his
companions received at Ravintola Lehtovaara at the beginning of the
year 2004. He received no reply and he subsequently blogged the letter.
Now, one and a half year later, the restaurant sent him a nastygram
demanding that he removes the post from the Internet and pays them
80000 euros for damage.
One of the most tenable sayings that exist is never attribute to
malice what stupidity can explain.
In this case, unfamiliarity with the workings of Internet communities is probably a
more likely case than just plain stupidity. Accordingly, I assume that
the restaurant just wanted to get rid of the writing, which appeared as
third search result in Google when searching for "lehtovaara".
outrageous legal threats just made the situation worse for the
restaurant, by several orders of magitude! Probably they just tried to
scare Mr. Hietanen, who happens to be an IT lawyer by trade, so in this
case the scare factor of the letter may have been largely reduced.
It's not uncommon to find unflattering
commentary on any restaurant, hotel or bar, and acute net users surely
know that with thousands of customers there is bound to be someone who
is not satisfied. I have never been to Lehtovaara, but I do know
several restaurants in Helsinki area which I shall never enter again, even
though others have praised these very same eating-houses. Had I planned
having a dinner at Lehtovaara, I would not have changed my mind based
on the writing, since Google provided mostly good reviews.
However, this is completely different. Legal threats tend to get very strong
reactions in web communities. For example, boingboing.net grabbed the
story using the illustrious headline Helsinki's Lehtovaara: Crappy
service and a bullying owner. Without the legal threat, the 1,5 million
readers of boingboing (and the few thousands of this site) would never
have known about the bad service someone had at the restaurant, let alone it's ways of handling critique - and this is just the first day of the
snowball effect that is likely to come! There will be many potential customers who will read about the case and who will choose not to support a restaurant acting thusly.
It's surprisingly common that people just do not understand that
criticizing or even scolding posts have much less impact than the bad
publicity that results from the attempts to stifle them. Several people
will write about this case in their blogs and the likely outcome is
that several result pages of
Google will have few other issues than the arrogant behavior of the
restaurant management. I wouldn't be surprised if some Finnish
magazines or news sites wrote about the case, too.
PR stunt of the year, indeed.