Stores confront consequences of customers' Twitter, Facebook postings

Dawn Staley, Univ. of Southern Carolina basketball coach.
Dawn Staley, Univ. of Southern Carolina basketball coach. Ron Cortes / Philadelphia Inquirer

In the way of Columbia, South Carolina, celebrities, Dawn Staley, USC women's basketball coach, is about as big as they get.

When the coach started a Twitter account to keep fans posted on her comings and goings, Staley’s followers learned that Za’s Brick Oven Pizza on Devine Street was her favorite restaurant in town.

One, two and sometimes three times a week, a Staley Twitter message would read something like this: "3 hrs til the heat of cola slaps me around. Camp meeting at guess where....ZA’s!"

Until July 5.

Then, Staley sent this message to the 1,589 people who subscribe to her Twitter updates: "Just got mistreated at za's ... never eating there again. Taking complaint to corporate office.”

It was horrible, said Cory Sirianni, Za’s general manger.

“That bad publicity is the last thing anybody wants,” he said.

The episode is a case study in how Twitter, Facebook and other social media are changing the world of consumer complaints.

And, it's a challenge for business owners, particularly those who run small, local restaurants and shops, said Robin DiPietro, an associate professor at USC’s Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management program.

"The smaller, independent owners will not have someone available to monitor Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites," she said. "Those Twitter campaigns and Facebook campaigns can be really damaging."

Businesses have always had to deal with critics and complainers.

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