Cooks Source: How to Avoid an Unnecessary Crisis

Situation:

When food writer Monica Gaudio discovered that Cooks Source magazine had lifted an article she’d written and printed it in the magazine, she emailed the magazine to inquire about how it had come about. When the editor of the magazine asked what she wanted, Gaudio told the. she wanted an apology and a $130 donation to the Columbia Journalism School as compensation.

Instead, she got this:

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

The response when Gaudio posted this email was jaw-dropping. Thousands of people posted comments to the Cooks Source Facebook page, which went from a couple of hundred fans to three and a half thousand “fans” over the next two days. These comments rapidly turned from general outrage to quite offensive mockery. Commenters also began to review other content on the site, only to find it had been taken from sources such as NPR, Martha Stewart and the Food Network.

Discussion of Cooks Source Sources on Facebook

To make things worse, the editor of the magazine began to post both defensive and aggressive comments on the page, including some that were downright rude, at one point referring to a commenter as “dumbass.”

The magazine tried abandoning the old page and moving to a new one, saying that the old one had been “hacked” (in fact it appears to just have been regular commenters) but the crowd followed them to the new page, despite their setting of the page’s default to just show posts by the page administrator.

Old page:

New Page:

The uproar has done more than just mire the reputation and Facebook page of the magazine; it has also cost them advertisers as some have apparently pulled their ads in protest. It also turned into a mainstream media story as numerous outlets (including the Washington Post and the Guardian) picked-up on the controversy.

Analysis:

Cooks Source has provided us with a textbook case study of how not to manage an emerging issue, from both a non-digital and digital perspective. However, five simple steps could have managed this issue down before the crisis unfolded.

This issue could have been easily managed – the aggrieved party simply asked for an apology and a small donation – but the response to the issue turned it into a full-blown crisis that has advertisers bailing from the magazine. Still, even though their original Facebook page has been rendered unusable by irate commenters, the community manager is still posting aggressive, combative posts on the new page… and getting the same reaction as before.

There are several simple steps companies can take toward avoiding this kind of situation:

  1. Ensure your business practices are legal to begin with – in this case, don’t plagiarize (lesson: some things can’t be fixed by PR or digital).
  2. Develop a moderation policy for your social media properties, so you have something to point to if you are faced with offensive comments.
  3. Ensure everyone is educated around both general and social media-focused employee policies. Proper training and pre-existing rules of engagement should have prevented both the initial email and the ensuring negative online spiral.
  4. Avoid aggressive or defensive responses – both in email and on digital properties. In this case, the issue may have been solved with an initial email reply that apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again. Instead, an aggressive and clearly inaccurate email provoked a virtual storm. Furthermore, the conduct of the magazine’s editor on the Facebook page ensured the situation went from bad to worse.
  5. Know when you can’t win the battle – don’t dig yourself into even worse trouble by trying to win the battle, and in doing so lose the war. Know when to disengage from the back-and-forth and stick to stand-alone statements rather than trying to win the argument.

What would you add?

28 Responses to “Cooks Source: How to Avoid an Unnecessary Crisis

  • Puleen
    ago5 years

    Not bad. Pretty neat.

    • davefleet
      ago5 years

      @Puleen Thanks for swinging by. I like the real-time features – they make it stand apart a bit.

    • @davefleet Nice to see you on livefyre Dave – been using it a little while and love it. The way you can reply real-time; notifications; and include folks from different networks that you think would fine the post interesting.

      Like Gini Dietrich for example. Or Arik Hanson – and they’d come from Facebook. Then there’s Twitter, and maybe bring in folks like shonali to offer her take on how PR could have been handled better.

      And the support from folks like Jenna Langer and jkretch of Livefyre has been awesome too.

      Oh, and my two cents? Cooks Source are continuing the fine tradition of Nestle and BP… 😉

    • @dannybrown @davefleet Thanks for sharing this post with me Danny :) Cooks Source will definitely go down in history with Nestle. They obviously didn’t know the digital world when they copied the recipes, and their use of social media was even more ignorant. Advice to brands – if you’re going to use new media, don’t treat it like the old. It’s for conversations not a broadcasts, and people will call your bluff. Next time have a better crisis strategy.

    • Shonali
      ago5 years

      @dannybrown Aren’t you smart, tagging us all. :)

    • @Shonali I have my moments. 😉

  • Great post. Cook’s screwed up a bad, and it’s a great lesson for everyone.

  • seven24
    ago5 years

    Great post and a good lesson for the blog cooks!

  • frothtales
    ago5 years

    A good lesson for all of us. Great post.

  • TedWeismann
    ago5 years

    Another point to the lesson from this, or perhaps to expound on yours knowing when to quit, is the need to understand that engagement through social media is a give-and-take. To the editor and whoever responded via Facebook engaged to fans who voiced their opinion, but it was all give. Without the “take”, their fate is doomed to be what is was here.

    BTW, Livefyre is cool.

  • Angelique
    ago5 years

    Well, look at that! I came here to help you test your comments, and found a great article about an issue I had JUST learned about.

  • Chris_Eh_Young
    ago5 years

    I think this is a case of what happens when the spotlight is shone on lousy business practices and how not to handle that. Imagine the grief $130 and an apology could have saved.

    It is also very apparent that their social media policy is dictated by the same person who thought stealing was a good idea. This is just bad after bad into worse.

    The old adage “you can’t dig your way out of a hole” applies here. I can’t even fathom the kind of thinking that was going on here.

    Perhaps the big lesson here is if you don’t know what to do and you’re too cheap to seek expert counsel, stay offline. Why open your message up to public opinion when it wreaks of foul.

  • Shonali
    ago5 years

    Dave, what was really jaw-dropping to me about this story was your first point – that they did something so blatantly irresponsible, not to mention display not even a basic understanding of copyright and IP.

    Second, the tone of the email was unbelievable. Arrogant, patronizing, rude, condescending … I was so irritated when I read it that words still fail me. They could so easily just have said, “My bad, so sorry” and fixed it, and this would have been a non-issue, as you point out. Instead, they decided to sit on their high horse… and look at where it’s gotten them.

  • darkwizgemz
    ago5 years

    Wow, great article, thanks for the info, it helps a lot. :)

  • RobinBrowne
    ago5 years

    A sixth one I would add Dave is:
    6) having someone from your organization engaged in your target communities – ideally offline and online – BEFORE crises hit.
    The personal relationships you can establish doing this will go a long way towards diffusing crises before they start.

  • Not only did this editor cost the publication and cause public humiliation, they have now also opened themselves up for a lawsuit. She blatantly admitted that they used the work and did not have any regret or care in the world about it. Someone seems very unhappy with her job and is probably wanting to get canned by the powers that be so she can find some wrong doing on their part and go after them for it.

  • GiniDietrich
    ago5 years

    Dave, don’t you love how @dannybrown hijacked your blog to show off his livefyre skills? I wrote about this, too, but only speculated the “hacked” Facebook page was a fib from the Cooks Source side. This is a great analysis. Thanks for the additional information!

  • In the new world of Social Media and online marketing, one must be very careful not to make enemies with the wrong people. Else, the geek tsunami will be unleashed and they will dig up your unsavory past, as we saw here in the form of Cooks Source and their prior copyright infringement.

  • This is an awesome post, Dave! I was fascinated and compelled – I love learning from other people! :-)
    Debbie

  • sohails234
    ago6 months

    Very nice article,
    I enjoyed reading your post, very nice share, I want to twit this to my
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