11 October 2017

One cocktail bar’s story of surviving a Twitterstorm

Just after it opened in Hackney, owners of The Bonneville feared they’d lose everything over an insensitive tweet.

In the summer of 2014, another cocktail bar opened in Hackney. It shouldn’t have been anything newsworthy or remarkable.

But, on its opening weekend, a man stumbled into the bar after being stabbed nearby. It was a stark reminder that the nickname ‘Murder Mile’ was still a valid one in gentrifying Lower Clapton.

The founder of The Bonneville, Ruairi Gilles, says he attended to the stabbed man, called for an ambulance and waited for the police to take statements. He asked one of his staff to tweet that the bar would be closed that evening.

The tweet read: ‘#CSIClapton due to events on Lower Clapton Road this evening, we will unfortunately have to close #WelcometoHackney’. It was accompanied with a picture of the bloodied floor.

A Twitter storm ensued, attacking The Bonneville’s seemingly insensitive attitude. ‘Boycott @BonnevilleE5,’ one Twitter user wrote. The Daily Mail and Evening Standard piled in and amplified the outrage. Residents organised a street protest. When Gilles spoke up and attempted to explain what had happened, he was met with accusations that he was ‘victim blaming’.

‘I thought we were done for,’ Gilles says.

But he decided to ‘ride out the storm’. He stopped responding to the tweets and instead approached Hackney residents in an attempt to win them over with pleas that he had ‘put [his] heart and soul into this place’.

His advice is to prioritise local relationships: ‘People who live 200 miles away jumping on the bandwagon don’t matter.’

But The Bonneville still hasn’t fully shaken off the damage from three years ago. ‘Some evenings I’ll stand outside and hear someone say, “Oh no, that’s the Twitter place”,’ he says.

‘Don’t feed the fire’

Samantha Phillips, co-founder of Catch Communications, on how to cope with a social media storm.

Regroup

‘Find out exactly what’s happened, how it happened and what the current state of play is online. Gather staff and make it clear what’s OK to communicate and what’s not.’

Act first

‘Get your apology out before the media goes to press so you have a voice and don’t look disorganised. Keep it sincere, simple, and never try to excuse your actions; it will only feed the fire.’

Respond carefully

‘Keep responses brief. The longer you make them, the more opportunities there are for people to pick holes. [Refer] people who are being particularly vocal back to your statement.’

Keep it in perspective

‘On social media a storm can blow over as quickly as it blows up. People are quite forgiving of human behaviour if things are dealt with in the right way.’

First appeared in issue 17 Jun/Jul