Doctor's Surgery Tries to Ban Social Media, Fails Miserably

18:34Ciaran McCormick

A GP's practice in Braintree, Essex has tried to ban patients from using social media to complain about their experiences. The sign they put up warned people - 'Do not use social media sites... Any comments we see on social media sites may be seen as a breach of our zero tolerance policy.' The intentions were fair enough, trying to clamp down on the abuse of their staff.



However, businesses have found repeatedly that attempts to manipulate or control the use of social media by their customers tends to end badly. It draws attention to failings at the GP's practice and raises questions about the freedom of speech enjoyed by critics of their service. In this case, it has provoked a backlash across national media. Whilst trolling and disproportionately harsh behaviour on social media can be condemned, not all negative reactions are 'a form of bullying', as they were described by Practice Manager Alison Rudkin.

There are many other examples of failed attempts to prevent customers from taking to the internet and social media to complain. They follow the same pattern where a few people criticise the brand online. This is not treated appropriately with a sensitive, personalised response and effective moderation of abuse. Instead, there is a ridiculous reaction like the Braintree GP sign. This explodes the issue from a few isolated cases of bad service to a freedom of expression issue, which internet users care about so passionately. A model to follow could be the many restaurateurs that respond to bad TripAdviser reviews by trying to understand, promising to act on it and offering an incentive for the diner to return and try it again.

Another example of how not to treat critics came from Union Street Guest House in New York. They regularly hosted weddings but had attracted some negative reviews on Yelp. Their response on their website showed a complete lack of faith and respect for their customers and drew in a slew of negative publicity. If you left a deposit for booking them as a wedding venue, they reserved the right to fine your wedding party £500 for every negative review on any website. But they would very generously refund you if the review was removed. It highlights a lack of understanding about people's relationships with the internet and social media. Word of mouth through tweet or review must be built on a bottom line of quality service rather than repression.

A legendary but extreme case study is American restaurant Amy's Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro. They appeared on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares TV show but the programme showed them at their worst. They threatened diners, pocketed staff tips and blamed everyone from 'haters' to 'bloggers' for failures. Even Ramsey failed to bring them to heel. But it was their response to criticism on Facebook and Reddit that highlighted their social media naivety. These Facebook screenshots show them melting down under pressure and trying to prosecute people for commenting. They later claimed they were hacked, which most people did not believe.
 


Nonetheless, whilst attempting to ban, manipulate or control social media failed in these examples, it can be used better. Some businesses have blocked social media in clever ways to leverage the core values of their brand. The Faraday Cafe in Vancouver, for example, wanted to highlight the importance of cafe culture in challenging technological addiction and withdrawal from social interaction. They enclosed their entire establishment in a mesh that blocks electromagnetic signal, disconnecting phones and laptops from signal.


 Many other restaurants and cafes have strict no social media policies or prevent diners taking bad photos of their beautiful food. These show an awareness of social media, though, and often gain positive coverage for the brand. The attempts to circumvent the problems encountered by staff at the GP's surgery in Braintree were clumsy. They highlight the sheer power of free expression and the weight of internet outrage when challenged.

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