Local Coffee Shop Uses Social Media To Fight Injustice

You’ve heard it before: Individuals using social media to hold people and organizations to a higher level of accountability and transparency for perceived injustices—leveraging their network and the power of an engaged community to bring about change.

No dogs allowed…Board of Health…whaddyamean? I just had a bath!!!

An airline passenger with a smart phone Tweets about the fact that he’s been stuck on a tarmac for four hours with little access to food, water and bathrooms.  We’ve heard about companies monitoring Tweets 24/7, and seen how a Tweet in some cases will get you a faster customer service response than calling or even e-mailing—a real-time response for a real-time communication channel. A well-known restaurant chain is shamed by an employee who posts an inappropriate video to You Tube from one of its franchise locations, and a cable company is held accountable when its cable-repair guy falls asleep on a couch in the middle of a customer’s living room and the video goes viral on You Tube.

So it wasn’t much of a stretch to learn that my local coffee shop turned to social media—and the power of an engaged community—when the local Board of Health enforced a customer complaint about the establishment’s policy of allowing leashed dogs inside the shop with their owners. Coffee Labs—a play on coffee-colored labrador retrievers and the kind of laboratory it is for roasting coffee—has always been a dog-friendly place. Customers like me enjoy the friendly atmosphere and wonderful full-bodied coffee. The presence of an occasional dog is a pleasant diversion, and responsible people acting responsibly with their leashed dogs has always been the norm. A sign on the front window clearly indicates that “dogs are allowed” (Snoopy would be proud), and potential patrons bothered by this policy are always welcome to  take their business elsewhere.

Here’s what happened:

  1. Someone complains to the local Board of Health about bringing dogs into Coffee Labs.
  2. The shop owners build a fan page on Facebook called  I want to go back to Coffee Labs Roasters, WOOF!!!!! and let their network know about it.
  3. The network of loyal customers (455 people as of this writing) is understandably outraged and shows their support.
  4. The local television news—as is the custom with media these days—discovers a story breaking on social media (Facebook) and picks it up for coverage on the evening news.
  5. A local attorney learns of the shop’s plight and volunteers to write a possible waiver to allow dogs back in the shop.

Bravo—the power of an engaged community using social media to fight injustice at the grass-roots level. Just a local coffee shop in the suburbs of New York City who wants to run their business as they see fit, not injustice on some grand scale.

But still…think of the possibilities.

The response came in a matter of days; the network came together voluntarily and participated enthusiastically and vigorously—no one is paying them and no one is paying the local attorney. It’s the power of an engaged community using social media to lock arms.

Lessons for corporate communication, employee engagement

What else might be accomplished through social media communication strategy? Are there lessons to be gleaned by those of us in a corporate communication function? How might social media channels be used in your workplace to bring about this level of engagement and discretionary effort? Are there social media intranet communication strategies hidden in this story? Are your employees passionate about a cause—which one(s)? How can you influence the discussion and motivate to action?

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In Category: Public Relations, Sharepoint, Social Media, Twitter, Workforce Engagement

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Dom Crincoli

Show 12 Comments
  • Social Media January 14, 2010, 2:25 pm Link

    Lessons for corporate communication topic is so good.

  • Peter G January 14, 2010, 3:09 pm Link

    The power of Social Media has yet to be completely explored…consider the downsides as well, though.

    They may include…

    …A higher profile could bring more scrutiny than desired…

    …endorsing a cause strongly as a business may alienate some potential clients or customers…

    …engaged community and public opinion may be misguided, short sighted, over emotional, or just plain wrong…

    …knee jerk reaction is not the same as rational consensus building and reasoned discourse…

    …and at some point, the social media users will have to begin to discern between communication, promotion, and manipulation…

    Certainly gives one a great deal to think about. For instance I wondered if this was an article about Social Media, using the Coffee Labs story as an example…or is it merely a vehilcle to gain more support for the campaign of the owners of the coffee shop to build public support for their desire to bypass the sanitary Code.

    Either way, thanks provoking some thought about emerging and developing social networking’s role in communicating and organizing.

  • Dom January 14, 2010, 3:27 pm Link

    Hi Social Media and Peter- thanks for your comments. Peter, yes we are navigating these unchartered waters together and I welcome and appreciate your perspective. In terms of endorsing a cause, we certainly saw some polarization of the customer base when the Whole Foods founder John Mackey shared his socially conservative views about healthcare alternatives to Obamacare recently– yet there was an equal faction who applauded his honesty and sincerity. So I think the benefits can outweigh the risks. Thanks again for weighing in.

  • Chris S. Cornell January 14, 2010, 5:04 pm Link

    I love when these local examples of social media being leveraged are featured in blogs like this.

    I enjoyed reading the article, Dominic. The comment from Peter G. (are you a PR professional, by any chance)was indeed thought-provoking. I agree with most of your comments, Peter, but wonder why social media is so frequently looked at as a completely new thing. This new technology certainly gives individuals and small organizations a greater chance to compete with larger orgs and traditional media — BUT many of the old rule still apply.

    We’ve been seeing examples of knee-jerk reactions for centuries. Witch trials, runs on banks, Crown Heights riots, and scores of other examples prove that you don’t need social media to get a rush to judgement or a “crowd mentality”.

    Yes, we as responsible people must examine facts and ask questions — and make responsible decisions.

    Overall, I think social media will help us in that pursuit far more than it will harm.

    Hope all of your local readers will consider attending the 3rd Westchester TweetUp Jan 21. RSVP http://twtvite.com/ivegfa

  • Peter G January 14, 2010, 5:45 pm Link

    I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted by the “PR professional” question…but since I’m not one, it doesn’t matter, Chris! I’m just an “average joe” with enough time on my hands to read blogs and surf the internet.

    Seriously though…Chris, you are right about the old rules still applying, and that and that social media is not necessary for rush to judgement and “crowd mentality”.

    I also think that it’s a fantastic way for anyone to “hear and be heard”!

  • Chris S. Cornell January 14, 2010, 9:49 pm Link

    a few of my good friends are PR professionals — definitely no negative connotations implied. Great to get the chance to exchange ideas with intelligent folks.

  • Stacy Wilson January 16, 2010, 3:57 am Link

    Dom, wonderful story. I’m amazed at the service I receive when I tweet about the service provider. I have several stories that demonstrate the power.

    As you know, my real interest is in how we use the technology inside our organizations. Using microblogging and other social technologies to connect people toward greater innovation and collaboration is tremendous power. Most organizations haven’t figured out how to harness this. If it can be powerful for the fewer than 500 going to the local coffee shop, imagine how powerful it can be in a world-wide organization of 10,000+.

  • Liz Guthridge January 18, 2010, 4:46 am Link

    Thanks for sharing, Dom! My dog–and most others, I believe–are big advocates of “no dog left behind.” Great to hear how the humans of your neighborhood dogs mobilized behind a coffee shop that blatantly supports dogs. Social media tools make it easier to provide support quickly.

  • Dom January 19, 2010, 2:18 pm Link

    Thanks Stacy- I agree. I’m also fascinated with the challenge of overcoming generational and cultural barriers inside companies to make this level of engagement a reality (as I’ve discussed in earlier posts). Thank you for your thought leadership on the intranet strategy front, and for your partnership in exploring ways to use social media tools to connect people to greater innovation and collaboration.

  • Dom January 19, 2010, 2:30 pm Link

    Hi Liz: No dog left behind (woof, woof):) Too funny. Social media tools do indeed make it easier to provide support quickly; thanks for pointing this out.

    Since this writing someone shared another great story of an American guitar player who could not get an airline to reimburse him after his guitar was damaged on a trip. Dave Carroll stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video on YouTube exposing their lack of cooperation.

    The Manager responded:”Good luck with that one, pal.”

    So Dave went ahead and posted his video on Youtube. The video has since received over 5.5 million hits. United Airlines contacted the musician and attempted settlement in exchange for pulling the video. Naturally his response was: “Good luck with that one, pal”.”

    Taylor Guitars subsequently sent the musician two new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has lead to a sharp increase in orders.

    Here’s the video….(great one)

  • fran melmed January 22, 2010, 1:08 pm Link

    hey dom, thanks for sharing this. it’s a good story. and to your point about how it can be used within the org, i think some of the lessons to be gained here is that it needs to be formed from the ground up. while the owner started the fanbook page, it was the customers who brought the effort to life. companies can’t push employees to use certain tools they create to stir conversation, but they can train and empower employees to create these channels to support their passions and work.


  • peter griffin May 27, 2013, 12:48 pm Link

    SO TRUE.

    giggity giggity. -Quagmire