Facebook promotion turns into PR nightmare for coffee company

Timothy’s Coffee sought to grow its fan base by offering free java. Too bad it wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming response. As you might imagine, this story ends with an apology.

You need to be careful about what you promise—especially when you make a promise on social media.

This adage is ringing loud and clear for Toronto-based Timothy’s Coffee. In an effort last month to grow its Facebook fan base, the company ran a promotion saying that anyone who “liked” its page would receive four free 24-pack boxes of single-serve coffee. As the Toronto Star reports, this was rather generous, as these boxes retail for over $17 CAD each.

A contest aggregating site picked up the promotion and, as you can imagine, responses poured in, reports the Star. Problem is, the stock of product was depleted within three days of the launch, yet Timothy’s still sent emails telling people their coffee was on the way.

Despite obvious problems, the company said nothing until Jan. 4th, when it told fans that the promotion was “first come first serve.” Consumers lashed out, on the company’s Facebook page and in blogs. One blogger claimed Timothy’s deleted nasty comments from its page.

Last week, the company issued a candid apology on its Facebook page:

“We are so sorry!
“This is our first go at this and we admit that we underestimated the response.
“We are blown away that our fans love our coffee so much.
“It really saddens us that we’ve disappointed our fans.
“We apologize.” It also apologized in a video to fans and said that those who signed up will receive a coupon for a free 12-pack box. The coupon will “most likely” come via regular mail.

Clearly, Timothy’s gaffe illustrates its lack of understanding about social media. The company grossly overestimated the value of a Facebook fan, and then vastly underestimated the outrage caused by their bungled initiative and broken promises.

That it took almost a month to resolve this issue speaks clearly to its lack of comprehension about the way people behave on the social Web.

Don’t want this to happen to your brand? Check out this week’s PR Daily story on “How to avoid a social media nightmare.”

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