News Column

Fashion Square's Response Criticized by PR Experts

Nov 28, 2012

Graham Moomaw

As questions swirled about an attempted child abduction over the weekend, Fashion Square mall appeared to adopt a firm social-media policy: We're not talking about it, and we don't want anyone else talking about it either.

On Monday, the Albemarle County mall's Facebook page lit up with criticism from people angry over mall security's decision to release a man without calling police after he grabbed a 2-year-old girl Saturday afternoon.

By Tuesday morning, most of the angry comments were gone. By mid-day, the page itself was nowhere to be found. The web address simply redirected visitors to the Facebook homepage.

The page was back up by Tuesday afternoon, but the mall's apparent scrubbing of online criticism didn't go unnoticed by Albemarle resident Brad Chaffee.

"Their response, to me, shows that they're not interested in the public," said Chaffee, who posted a message on the mall's page Tuesday about comments disappearing. "It's just really infuriating."

A father of three, Chaffee said he often took his children to the mall.

"This has kind of ruined that," he said. "I don't think I'll ever be going there again."

Twitter users shared similar sentiments about Fashion Square, but the mall's account made no mention of the controversy.

"Take your child's picture with Santa and enter it into our Cutest Santa Photo contest here! ...," reads the last tweet from the mall, posted Sunday morning.

Simon Property Group, the management company that operates the mall, released a brief statement Monday saying Simon was cooperating with police. Other than that, the company has had nothing to say publicly. Mall management did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday either.

Businesses often set up social-media account for promotion and to get feedback from customers. Even when that feedback turns harshly negative, businesses should still show that they care, according to a local social-media professional.

Marijean Jaggers, the owner of a local public-relations company, said shutting down is the "worst response."

"When we're criticized in the public space, the best place to handle that, to overcome a crisis or a reputation-management opportunity, is to respond to it in a public way," Jaggers said.

What the mall should have done, she said, is craft a statement laying out what it plans to do to prevent something like this from happening again.

"It just delivers a message that you're a conscientious part of your community and that you're going to do everything in your power to make sure that your facility is safe," Jaggers said. "... If customers are giving you feedback, whether it's good or bad, show up. Be there."



Source: (c)2012 The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Va.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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