Cooks Source Magazine, You’re Doing It Wrong

Lisa Barone from Outspoken Media recently wrote a couple of posts about social media marketing and how you should take a humanistic, engaging approach in order to avoid social media disaster. She points out, rather astutely, how brands have distorted the definition of social media marketing to mean “here’s another platform for us to blast information at you” instead of using it to communicate with your audience, listen to what they’re saying, and engage with them by responding to their feedback. Lisa used the Washington Post as an example of how not to do social media marketing — they banned their reporters and writers from speaking out on Twitter after one of their journalists used the account to respond to some criticism of an article about homosexuality being a mental health issue. Instead of using Twitter to address the issue, they turned their back on the conversation and continue to use it as a one-way communication tool. That’s not how social media works. Unfortunately for Cooks Source Magazine, they too learned this lesson the hard way.

Last week, a woman posted on LiveJournal about how Cooks Source Magazine found an article she’d written and published it in their printed magazine without her permission. Apparently Cooks Source found her article on her website and copied it for their magazine (which allegedly has between “17,000 and 28,000 readers”) and for their Facebook page. The author contacted the magazine and asked for an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine, and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism in lieu of payment. The response she received from Cooks Source’s editor was surprising, to say the least:

“I have been doing this for 3 decades…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!”

So, to recap: not only is the editor refusing to apologize (other than the half-ass “my bad” in the first paragraph) for stealing the author’s article, she thinks the Internet is some sort of Wild West free-for-all where people can take what they want and not have to worry about stealing other people’s content (especially since it happens all the time in college and at work…because plagiarism is no big deal when it comes to your academic or professional career). Oh, and don’t forget the cherry on top — she thinks that because she made some minor edits to the article, she’s entitled to receive compensation from the author for this auspicious favor. The balls on this woman…

Oh, let me just point out that this isn’t the first time the magazine has lifted content from the Internet — apparently their magazine is pretty much entirely comprised of content that’s not theirs. They’ve even stolen articles from NPR and Martha Stewart Living and re-purposed it in their magazine without the author’s permission. Anyway, the author’s LiveJournal entry got posted on Reddit, and people took swift action. In addition to contacting Cooks Source’s advertisers and expressing their disappointment, users flocked to Cooks Source’s Facebook page in droves and “liked” the brand so they could flood the page’s wall with the following:

Their page was inundated with people voicing their outrage, either via jokes or actual complaints. Quite the shitstorm Cooks Source has on their hands, eh? What a reputation management issue! What’s the brand to do? Well, you’d think that straight off the bat, they’d issue an apology or at least some sort of acknowledgment on Facebook since that’s where one of their biggest fires is. After all, it’s not good for business if someone comes across their Facebook page and sees hundreds of negative posts accusing them of plagiarism, right?

Unfortunately, Cooks Source does not have what I can only describe as “basic common sense.” Instead of addressing the reputation management issue they had on their Facebook fan page, they abandoned it and created a new page…and they posted this:

That is the facepalmingest thing I’ve seen a brand do in quite a while. Unsurprisingly, this update received over 300 comments, mostly negative, with many people pointing out that the magazine’s previous fan page didn’t get “hacked,” it just received an overwhelming amount of criticism stemming from people who disapprove of the magazine stealing content and using it for profit. Cooks Source just didn’t get it. Their new page included posts from them that read:

  • “Apologies for the issues on the old page. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about hackers!”
  • “For those of you who wish to be negative. Please use our other group. For those who are here as readers welcome!”
  • “There’s lots of people here that do not seem to understand a few basics yet they seem to all be experts in the print business.”
  • “Any posts considered libelous will be removed. Thank you to Christian for his assistance on the page mechanics. We shall be temporarily adapting the wall. Apologies to our regular fans.”
  • “I don’t know what some of you think you are going to achieve? We apologized, now go find a rabbit to catch or something”
  • “Numerous derogatory posts have been removed and members banned and reported. Those people here to cause trouble are wasting their time. Don’t you think that jumping on a band wagon just makes you look lily-livered?”

Would you be surprised if I told you that the magazine’s critics did not take kindly to these wall posts? Whoever was handling the magazine’s social presence just signed their own death warrant. Instead of apologizing and acknowledging that they made a mistake, they rolled their eyes and essentially told the Internet to get over it. This isn’t poking the bee’s nest, it’s punting it, running to where it landed, and taking a steaming dump on it.

Shockingly, creating a new page didn’t confuse the trolls and leave them behind at the old abandoned one. The new Cooks Source fan page has just as many vitriolic comments as the last one (and this one may have actually been hacked by someone — it at least appears as if the magazine has stopped updating it). This incident snowballed to disastrous proportions in just a few short days.

So what’s to learn from this mess? I’ve outlined some tips below:

  1. It’s hard to get away with plagiarism. Don’t think you can just steal someone’s content and use it for monetary gain without that person catching on. It’s the Internet, for crying out loud — anyone can just copy a snippet of your content and paste it into Google to see if it exists anywhere else. People can sniff this stuff out quicker and easier than you can imagine. Ask yourself if it’s really worth it to steal someone else’s stuff vs. creating your own content. The latter may be more time consuming up front, but option #1 will cost you much more time, money, and headaches in the long run.
  2. Never underestimate the power of the Internet. It’s more fun to complain than it is to heap praise, and nobody does that better or quicker than Internet users. Whether it’s finding out who was mean to a kitten or piling onto a daft magazine editor, people can and will assemble together and make your life a living hell if you’ve done something especially egregious or skeezy.
  3. “Social” media means you can’t always control what’s said about you. If someone’s tweeted something negative about you or posted something you don’t like on your Facebook page, ignoring or deleting it is far from the best solution. Sure, you can disregard trolls who have little to offer other than saying “ur gay,” but if there’s merit to the criticism, you can’t ignore the 10,000 lb social media gorilla in the room. As Lisa pointed out in her posts, the true point of social media is to engage with your audience — that doesn’t mean you ignore them when they’re unhappy and instead try to keep shoveling the same bland shit about your company into their mouths. If all you do is delete the stuff you don’t want to hear and keep the shiny happy praise intact, pretty soon people will start to smell the bullshit and lose trust in/respect for your company.
  4. Sometimes you have to make public statements. Sooner or later, you’ll need to acknowledge an unhappy customer or field a question about a touchy subject, and it could be something ugly that was said in a public setting. As embarrassing as it may be to you, if there’s a big enough hubbub online, you’ll need to toss the masses a bone so they’ll be satisfied. Even if you address the initial issue publicly and offer to move the conversation offline in order to handle it further, it at least shows your audience that you’re attuned to what’s going on and are handling the situation. Kill them with kindness — I’ve seen brands do a good job of this in the retail space. Someone posts a negative review about a shirt that didn’t fit or seems cheaply made, and the very first comment is from the company offering an apology and information on how to get a refund. It’s not hard to turn a negative situation into a positive one — all it depends on is your attitude and how you handle it.
  5. Make sure whoever is handling your social presence knows what the hell s/he’s doing. Seriously, you do not want to find yourself in a Cooks Source situation. Whoever was (hopeful emphasis on the past tense there, as that person better be fired by now) in charge of the brand’s Facebook account handled the plagiarism incident like a bratty teenager and did nothing more than add fuel to the fire. Make sure that whoever’s representing your brand is level-headed and knows how to respond to various situations in a prompt, appropriate manner.

Both Cooks Source and the Washington Post have provided us with examples on how not to run your social media presence. Hopefully you gleaned some tips from their mistakes. The important thing to takeaway from this post is that you really need to emphasize and respect the “social” in social media — as soon as you take your audience for granted, you’ll learn the hard way just how strong a voice they actually have.