Part 3 – “Farmer Hugh gets burned at the stake.”
In Part 1, we reviewed that I love to help people use data to overcome emotional distress caused by social media pain.
If you missed Part 1,
If you missed Part 1 & Part 2 – “Solving the strawberry supply problem.”
Here’s the basic idea:
Reviewing the data, the real numbers, is like a vaccine against future social media harassments. Once you know to look at the data, you can temper your emotional response.
Then it happened to me.
Part 3 – “Farmer Hugh gets burned at the stake.”
“Farmer Hugh” is my persona for being silly on the farm, delighting children, and bringing joy through farm photos and updates. Farmer Hugh gets his picture taken with families happy to spot him in the corn maze. He is beloved on Facebook and Instagram, like a cartoon character.
Pixelated pitchforks. Farmer Hugh got dragged into the village square and burned at the stake, over strawberries. We don’t even GROW strawberries on this farm! The pitchforks came out, and the villagers were hungry for blood.
Now, I do understand the confusion that led to the mob scene.
To be fair, there were differences in the berries. Drew’s were coming only 11 hours, California’s were days away. Drew’s were in open flats with green pulp boxes. California’s were in plastic clamshells. Drew’s said, “Jaemor Farms.” California’s said, “Naturipe” (Naturipe is a grower-owned co-op.) I will say that BOTH berries were delicious and enjoyed without prejudice by many attendees.
In my desire to help Drew move berries, I’d sold a few pallets in the earliest days of sales to my local IGA grocer in an effort to boost the total order. So, some of the California berries ended up in those local stores after my festival.
You might remember that I had emailed all the buyers that California berries were going to fill in the order because fo the Georgia flooding, but clearly, not everyone got the memo.
Read for yourself: Make sure that you select “ALL Comments” to enjoy as you watch the comments devolve from “We loved it!” to “Farmer Hugh is a $*&#^$”
Well, you can imagine that I felt pretty low. It seemed like our whole festival was derailed by the choices we made to save it. What started as a project to help a friend could end up crashing our reputation? How was that fair?
Michelle Janelle and I were all three trying to answer questions, soothe guests, and keep communication flowing with short response times. It took three of us to do it efficiently.
A long time ago, someone told me,
“If you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.”
The only stance that works. I decided the only response no matter what it cost was to go all in. Maple Lawn Farms stands behind anything and everything we do 100%, even if we didn’t grow or produce it.
Response tactics you can use, too.
- Refund first, explain second. If you messaged us with a complaint about your strawberries, found a moldy one, didn’t like that they were in plastic – ANYTHING – we would refund the berries off your order, then send you a message.
- Always tell the truth. At one point, “Kevin” shows a picture of “the same strawberries” at Saubel’s Market, the local chain to whom we sold berries. Our response: “You bet those are the same berries. They came off the truck right after we unloaded at the farm. Saubel’s is a local business that was supporting our farmers.”
- Always reconnect to people. Somehow, California Strawberries have the image around here that they are not grown by farmers! Ridiculous, but we pushed our Naturipe contact to provide the information on the California farm that grew the berries, then posted that. It’s the truth, and it connects to people, real farmers. At least then, critics of California berries have to post under the picture of the farmer who grew the fruit.
- Respond fast and consistently. We sent so many responses that I wrote the answer one time, then would “copy & paste” into the next Facebook Message to save time. Michelle, Janelle, and I all used the same, consistent response in posts, email responses, and in private Facebook Messages.
Here’s our primary response as an example:
Thanks for letting me know. I’ve already processed a full refund for your berries. Please know that we stand behind everything we grow or sell, even if the fruit is from another farm. We operate at 100% happiness for you!
The challenge was that we set about selling Georgia berries for Drew and he had inches of rain when he went to pick them, so we only got half our order. We called around in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia until we found a Georgia farmer with family in California. Their family farms for Naturipe, which is a co-operative, meaning many farms grow and sell under the same brand name.
We felt good about it because of the Georgia connection. Throughout our process, we have certainly learned an awful lot about a lot of things, including why we grow what we sell in season – it gives us more control over the product. However, in a season like this, we have to try new things and take risks to survive.
Thank you for being a part of us working to find a solution, and we appreciate your feedback. Sometimes, even when you think you’re doing the right things, it doesn’t work out. We’re learning as we go, and we certainly aren’t perfect.
We appreciate you and hope to see you soon,
- Standardize your refund mechanism. We used the Square POS & Weebly online store “Orders” section to process all requests. Square allows you to refund just one item, separate items, or an entire order. If Michelle had already refunded someone, I’d see that in the customer’s actual online order record to prevent duplication.
- Clarify your vision for your people. After the nasty emails and posts, I made it abundantly clear to the team that whoever answered the phone, email, or message had full responsibility and authority to refund and reply using the tools at hand. We were going to stand behind everything, no matter what happened, no questions asked.
It was a clear, honest, customer-focused stance. No one on the team had to guess where Maple Lawn Farms stood on the matter. That clarity removes uncertainty from any trying time or event.
My emotional state was, eventually, saved by the data. This was a crazy 3-4 days after an insane week of logistical nightmares. I was feeling terrible and unsuccessful. Janelle and Michelle were worn out. It felt like we had worked our tails off, then had to give it all back.
When the metaphorical storm was slowly subsiding, at the end of a long day, I logged into Square POS to see just how pitiful things were after all those refunds. I clicked on “Orders“ and did a sort by “Status: REFUNDED,” closed my eyes and waited for the screen to load.
51 refunds. Three days what felt like endless phone calls, abusive emails, and scathing public Facebook posts. We had processed 1,534 orders, grossed over $75,000, sold 3,384 individual items, and only 51 refunds after a complete supply chain debacle?!
All those coaching conversations I’d shared with other operators, and I still fell for it. It felt like the world was crashing down as if the villagers had me burning publicly in the town square. The emotional spike from failing to please every single customer almost took me down, too.
The only thing that saved me was the numbers, the real data.
So, are you letting your emotions get ahead of the data? Do abusive comments from a vocal few affect your business decisions? How do you process hurtful business social media comments? Do you have a support system in place? Does your team know what you now know about “data vs. emotional reactions”?
Your staff is on the front lines, sometimes receiving the negativity face-to-face with guests. How can you support and encourage them to share the comments with you, but understand the big picture? What numbers could you share with your staff to promote a positive outlook when confronted by a few, loud negative people?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this rollicking adventure in social media and a few laughs at my expense. I share this story for the hidden gem, the beaming light from within the dark tunnel. Did you catch it?
In about 19 days, in the middle of a global pandemic with a stay-at-home order in place for Pennsylvania, we:
- Built a NEW online store for our farm market (Success!)
- Held a festival to help a friend that outsold his production (Success!)
- Generated cash flow for our farm & winery two months before we typically open (Success!)
- Marketed with only our email list + $1,500 in Facebook Ads (Success!)
- Went on to gross more dollars than a big Fall Harvest weekend (Success!)
Anything is possible! You can make incredible things happen when you take massive action for the right reasons, and we’d love to help you do the same.
All the best,
Call anytime 717-862-4691, and we’ll connect you with the right tools to survive and thrive, no matter what the world throws at you.
PS Want to know how we built an online order-taking site so fast? We created a FREE program so you can do it too with Square POS.
PPS Want to know how we SOLD OUT our festival? Each day we’ll send you a one minute video with an encouraging thought to set your day out right. We call it 30 Days of Positive Energy and it’s completely FREE.
PPPS Need some personal encouragement? Each day we’ll send you a one minute video with an encouraging thought to set your day out right. We call it 30 Days of Positive Energy and it’s completely FREE.