Social media can be an amazing way for licensees to promote their businesses to customers both old and new but it can also go wrong. Here's our advice on how to cope if the worst happens...
Social media is innovative, flexible, largely free, and, at times, it can seem like all the world is your audience. The problem with it is that when things don't go to plan, the sense that the entire world is watching – and judging – is massively magnified.
Take Doctor Brown's in Middlesbrough, for example. Up until December last year it was best known locally as a popular spot for football fans on match days and for holding live music nights.
Then in December it briefly became known globally as "the pub that bans female-fronted rock acts".
Landlady Paula Rees disputes this allegation. She says the pub refused to book one act with a female singer because they hadn't gone down well previously. Others suggested the pub had an inherently sexist policy.
Whatever the truth of that, what is beyond dispute is that once the story about the pub potentially discriminating against acts based on gender had been reported, it went viral within hours.
Paula was bombarded with angry and threatening messages on Twitter and Facebook from thousands of people she had never met, many of whom would probably struggle to find Teesside on a map.
It was not an experience she wishes to go through again.
Paula, who has worked in the trade for the best part of three decades, explains: "It just came out of nowhere. It was terrible, they were threatening and demanding things. I wanted everyone to come to see me and listen to my side of the story. You can't really win that battle online and in that forum."
Messages included calls to boycott the venue to plain old expletive-ridden abuse. At least one band cancelled a booking because of the negative publicity, leading to a loss of business for the venue.
Paula added: "In all, it went on for about three weeks. It was a stressful thing to go through and it was very unexpected. They say there is no such thing as bad press, but it didn't feel like it."
So, what should do if you find yourself on the receiving end of some strong online criticism?
Take it offline
We spoke to two PR experts in the pub trade and they both agreed that the first step is to try to move the conversation offline.
Jeremy Eaton is the chief executive of PR and marketing agency Vital, which numbers Marston's among its blue-chip clients.
He said that situations where pubs and businesses face potential reputational damage on either social media or review sites are all too common.
"Every situation you come across is different and there is no one way to deal with everything," he says.
"My advice would be to engage with the perpetrator and get them offline as soon as you can, that is the one thing that is consistent."
He adds that in most situations people are easier to engage with on a human level on the phone or face to face, rather than when they are angrily typing out their thoughts and feelings. "If you can engage with someone in that way most people will calm down."
Mark Stretton is managing director of Fleet Street Communications, which represents Carlsberg and Ei Group.
He says: "Every situation is different, so it is very difficult to apply a general rule, but always try to take them offline.
"If you want to engage online, just make your point, make it well and then walk away. If you try to get into a debate the normal rules do not apply."
He adds that pubs should consider how everything they do could be viewed on social media. "Every licensee needs to be looking at their business through the lens of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat. If they do something really well people will take a picture and share it. If they do something really badly, people will take a picture and share it."
How to react when you are not being 'liked'
You might not like what is being said but you need to know about it. When a situation arises ensure you are on top of all your social channels.
If you swear or lose your temper, you lose the argument.
Just because the Twittersphere is giving you hell, it doesn't mean you should retaliate in kind. Respond as you might to a person in the pub.
Make it personal
If you can engage with someone on a human level and prise them away from their keyboard or phone you are more likely to connect and calm the situation.
It might feel like you are being bullied and bombarded, but the situation will change. Most of the angry mob are just jumping on a bandwagon and will soon find something else to be outraged about.
Inapub digital marketing guide
Need a hand with your marketing tactics? Inapub should be able to provide the answer.
Our Social Connect service allows you to update the sport you are showing on your website and social media simultaneously. We also send emails to licensees about upcoming sports fixtures.