When the world was busy looking at how Nestle botched up in their Facebook page, something interesting happened even in India. Again, partly on Facebook.
To sum it up, a cyclist was turned away from Bangalore’s plush 7-star hotel, The Leela, because he was not in a car! Anita Bora blogged about it in detail, last week.
But there are other interesting observations too.
The discussion was primarily on a forum, Bikeszone, where, on last count, it is a 8 page thread with tons of hate messages against Leela.
From there, people started posting updates and hate comments on Leela’s Facebook page.
Leela was forced to issue an apology which they posted on Facebook, as a note.
It was well worded and well intentioned too, but the explanation was not fully accepted by many of the fans/ forum members. At one point, Leela even wrote, “i take back my words .. and apologise again .. its sort of getting difficult with us constantly being bombarded .. please empathise’
There was widespread criticism on the Bikeszone forum about messages being deleted from the Facebook page, which could have riled the protesters further. But, a Leela employee (Venkat Shankarnarayan, Assistant Manager – Web Business Development, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts) dared to join the forum and posted an apology directly.
Things were going smoothly for Mr. Venkat Shankarnarayan…people in the forum were glad that he came out and posted an apology, before something bizarre happened!
One of the users clicked on Venkat’s newly-created profile and happened to see what he wrote under, ‘My Goal’. He had actually written, ‘kick ur mutherfuckin ass…’ and with great wisdom, the user had taken a screenshot of his profile, before Venkat had a chance to change it!
The crowd turned its ire on the man, understandably, and wrote a mail to his boss, who they found out via LinkedIn, along with the screenshot!
It is one hell of a fascinating case study, actually.
It started with a cyclist not allowed entry into a 7 star hotel. The discussion was predominantly around discretionary policies of the hotel, how Indians with no cars are treated, racism and how these status symbol hotels treat people with 2 wheelers.
Then, Leela intervened, both on Facebook and on the forum, directly – great move, even if the reason (security) was not bought by the protesters.
After a flurry of responses to the official statement, someone found the ‘Goal’ in the official responder’s profile and the discussion turned against him, almost personally, equating that with Leela’s general outlook, since that person posted his message in an open forum, as an official from Leela! His profile may be personal, as he calls it, but his post was official!
The discussion reached journalists from Times of India and Indian Express – Times of India’s Rajesh Kalra did a story on the imbroglio and the forum members noticed a particularly abusive comment by a user named ‘Joy’.
Finally, it looks like Leela is reconsidering its no-cycles-allowed policy, according to latest updates in the forum.
So, bikers have literally forced a 7-star hotel to change rules, for good. It hasn’t happened yet, but given the kind of relentless pressure they have put on Leela’s management using online tools, it seems like a good example to have a proactive and consistent social media policy, so that such issues can be addressed before they blow out of proportion.
Strangely, the person who commented on the forum has the designation of, ‘Assistant Manager – Web Business Development’. The business part of web may not be best suited to handle PR, online or offline, as this example shows!
Leela seems to have acted reasonably fast, but the kind of messages they sent seem wrong and not in line with the kind of points raised in the forum. It’s a rather generic apology and even adds that the security guard in question may be taken to task – which seems massively unfair since he was just following Leela’s policies!
But again, Leela is a private hotel and they can set any kind of rules they want as long as it is not deemed illegal. But, in these days of expensive cycles, urban cycling movements/ groups and the eco-friendly topics they open up for discussion, it is sad to see a hotel of Leela’s caliber not taking this thought proactively and create a USP out of it.
As I had blogged before, Mantri’s ‘India’s largest mall in Bangalore’ could have used the number of cars it can accommodate in the parking lot as a USP, simply because it is a burning topic right now, from the city’s point of view. Taco Bell and the size of the mall itself could become stale USPs very soon, but the fact that they thought about the parking will remain a USP forever!
In Leela’s case, it was an opportunity staring at them – I do understand that such policy changes will take time and effort, but the opportunity is still out there for the hotel!