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CASE STUDY · December 17th, 2018

Combating Viral Outrage

by Collin Ozar

MARKETING MANAGER

Every day, the team at Bark and Board works hard to ensure guests feel like their pet resort is a second home. They provide busy pet parents with peace of mind through regular Facebook updates and a live-streaming webcam which allows clients to look in on their dogs as they play. In their community, they’ve earned the reputation as a place where pets are always safe, comfortable and having fun.

But suddenly, last October, that reputation was nearly destroyed.

Their webcam streamed footage of an employee violating their policy and physically correcting a dog. The dog’s owner watched online as it happened and recorded the incident.

Outraged at the employee’s actions, she immediately posted the footage to her Facebook page and implored pet owners in Atlanta to avoid Bark and Board. After urging her friends and followers to share the post, it went viral. At its peak, the video received over 230,000 views, 2,700 likes, 5,600 shares, and 3,200 comments.

Other users — some not even members of the community — piled on. They flooded Bark and Board’s Yelp and Google pages with angry reviews and one-star ratings. A local television station picked up the story, broadcasting the video to thousands of local viewers. To make matters worse, staff members received threats on and offline.

After years of building a stellar reputation, Bark and Board’s business was at risk due to one employee’s inappropriate actions.

This had become a full-blown crisis.

Lessons from the Event

As leaders of hospitals and pet resorts, an incident like this could happen to you. Here are some takeaways from Bark and Board’s response and a few steps you might take to combat viral outrage:

1. Reach out for help.

Immediately after the video was posted, the Bark and Board team connected with their division leader and regional manager who connected them with NVA resources like Marketing, Legal, and HR. Everyone understood the importance of responding to the incident both quickly and thoughtfully.

Additionally, daily calls were held to address their response to the incident and assess the potential impact on Bark and Board and their staff.

Together, they crafted a strategy to address the incident, make it right, and draft talking points for the resort management team.

2. Communicate honestly with your clients.

When a video or other social post of this nature goes viral, response-time is critical. With the help of Marketing, Bark and Board immediately posted two separate messages on Facebook and pinned them to the top of their page:

  • The first communication:
    • Voiced their genuine surprise and concern for what had occurred
    • Confirmed the employee had been terminated
    • Outlined a series of actions they would take in the near term to address the client’s and community’s concerns
  • The second communication:
    • Provided more details regarding their action plan
    • Reiterated their commitment to clients and guests
    • Made sure to ask their clients to consider that a single bad act by an employee did not represent the care and compassion Bark and Board had worked so hard to deliver to their guests over the years

3. Evaluate what went wrong and fix it.

Getting to the root of the problem will vary depending on the circumstances. For Bark and Board, it meant better training and hiring.

Their policies strictly state that no physical corrections may be made with the animals they serve. To emphasize this, they re-trained all employees to meet their high standards of care. The staff also completed an intensive, mandatory dog training sessions that included classroom-like courses as well as in-yard training.

In addition, Bark and Board updated their hiring process to ensure that every team member was a qualified and compassionate animal lover.

Collectively, these actions helped demonstrate to their community that they took these improvements very seriously while also greatly reducing the risk of an event like this from ever happening again.

4. Move forward together.

Bark and Board took additional steps to ensure their entire team was in lockstep and able to move forward:

  • Asked all staff not to respond to or address the incident with clients on or offline, so their message could remain consistent
  • Closely monitored social media and online reputation channels and responded to all negative reviews with an empathetic and heartfelt response
  • Completed additional analysis which revealed that the majority of social media views, shares, and comments appeared to have come from outside markets which decreased the impact on their business. As a result, they audited all Facebook likes and follows and audited their page to eliminate “trolls.”
  • Removed employee last names from the Bark and Board website to reduce harassment their employees experienced immediately following the event.

The Outcome

Today, Bark and Board can happily report that their business remains strong, and they are able to focus on what they do best—providing a safe and healthy environment for their valued guests.

Largely because of their quick response and excellent reputation prior to the event, Bark and Board received positive posts from their current clients who voiced their support. Three weeks after the event, they unpinned from their Facebook page their statement addressing the incident and posted on a consistent basis happy images of current customers and their pets.

Thanks to the responsiveness and sensitivity of their entire team and the assistance they received from the support teams, Bark and Board survived this potentially devastating event. Their experience exemplifies what it means to be a part of the NVA community: You know you are not alone.

Collin Ozar

MARKETING MANAGER

Support Center | Agoura Hills, CA

Collin is a Field Marketing Manager who supports the pet resorts in our Bark Side division. He lives in Camarillo with his wife, Alex, and his dog, Ryder, a Pitbull/German Shepherd mix.

One Response

  1. Dr. Bonnie Smith says:

    This is a very timely subject. Thank you for the constructive steps given, that we can use and deliver as a team, to combat anything negative online. This was the first subject that came up at our first Wellness Committee meeting yesterday for the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association. I am the Chair of that committee and Secretary for the association and also work at Westover Animal Clinic in Chicopee MA. We also discussed what the AVMA has on their website to help veterinarians. The important thing to remember is that those “jumping on the band wagon”, really don’t understand what we do on a given day and how highly and specially trained everyone is in our profession.

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