Interview with Black Milk's Cameron Parker: "We Are Truly Sorry"

Moving Forward with Policy Changes, Lessons Learned, and Sincerest Apologies from Captain Cam Himself

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You've heard the story.  Brand posts meme.  Fans object to meme.  Fans feelings are dismissed and worse in an epic social media/ customer service fail. Google it. You'll find a number of sites reporting on it. We're not dwelling on it here. You see, even after Black Milk issued their latest apology, the social media team was still being harassed. Much of the community was still hurt and angry. And some customers just weren't satisfied. Which brings us to this post. Being a part of such a large geek girl community, I've witnessed how the incident affected my friends. And while many have been talking about Black Milk, (and in the case of FaceBook, talking at Black Milk) No one was actually talking to Black Milk. So in an effort to appease the community-- and in the interest of, you know, actual journalism-- I reached out to Black Milk directly. The result: honest answers to some tough questions from the head of sales and marketing. The ones that needed to be asked so we can all move passed this.

How important is the community to the success of your business? How do you measure that?

When we first started out we relied heavily on word of mouth to get the Black Milk name known and it was a bit touch and go there for a while. When you look at it from that perspective, our community and our bloggers have been such an amazing help over the years. And we really love doing special things for our community like meet-ups and the occasional sneaky, special piece.

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How are the numbers post May 4th? According to BuzzFeed, your Facebook likes had originally dropped by several thousand, but it looks as though they're on the steady incline once again. Has "the event" affected sales in any way?

While [we] lost around 2,000 Facebook 'likes' around May 4, we're actually back up over what we [had] originally. We had our Witch Please release on Tuesday of this week and it was such a strong collection - it's been our best ever. We're really looking forward to the second half of 2014, we're going to be releasing the most involved, creative collections in Black Milk history and it's going to be very exciting.

I wonder if you've already put yourself in this scenario, but I'm curious: Imagine you're the customer. A long time customer at that. How would you feel if your feelings were suddenly dismissed? Do you think that the practice of deleting comments and dismissing people that don't agree, counter intuitive to nurturing an open community?

I am truly sorry for any customers whose feelings were hurt. Deleting comments and banning users wasn't an effective method in dealing with the situation. We've since been working with external industry experts to review the way we approach issues and hopefully moving forward we'll be able to more accurately identify what should and shouldn't be removed.

To Black Milk's credit, after the latest apology, which you yourself posted, I've noticed much continued damage control by the staff. Specifically twitter, where my feed looked like you were apologizing to each and every user directly.... How quickly did you orchestrate your plan for operation -- to quote one of the tweets-- "we dun goofed up", and what exactly was the strategy? How many people does it actually take to cast that wide of an apologetic net? Working 'round the clock, I'm assuming?

It was an extremely intense week for the team - we I arrived back from interstate I worked around the clock (so yes not much sleep). It was definitely an all hands on deck situation, and everyone really went the extra mile to rectify the situation.

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Fans were quick to point out that BM broke its own commandments: COMMANDMENT #1 - YOU SHALL BE EXCELLENT TO ONE ANOTHER COMMANDMENT #5 - YOU SHALL NOT MAKE CRITICAL COMMENTS ON OTHER WOMEN’S BODIES. Now, I went ahead and read through these commandments and it looks as though some of your fans--in taking the meme the wrong way--we're just as guilty of breaking one : #8. YOU SHALL GET OVER YOURSELF. JL goes on to say, "BM is was and always will be irreverent. We like to have a laugh and joke around....My point is that we don't take ourselves too seriously, and neither should you." Care to comment?

We've since revised and republished our commandments, so they are much clearer and much more in line with what you will find on other pages. Moving forward it's going to be a lot easier for everyone - both community members and staff - to know what to expect of us and what is expected of them.

Some of the fans in disagreement were erroneously referred to as a minority. As anyone in social media is aware, those few people could have numerous followers on any given platform. All it takes is one person having a negative experience and tweeting out to their  thousands of followers, getting retweeted by them to their followers, etc... to cause a serious dent in a company's credibility. Are you monitoring the ripple effects of the incident? Is Black Milk being more sensitive to your customers needs because of it?

Yes, we absolutely are.

Actions speak louder than words. While many are perfectly satisfied with the apology you issued and indeed the string of twitter apologies that followed, some people still don't think it's enough. Assuming there was an epic emergency staff meeting, what measures are you taking to ensure this doesn't happen again? 

Furthermore, in last month's LifeInstyle blog you said: "Talking down to your community probably tops the list [as the worst social media faux pas]. Social media is an equal-opportunity platform, and you have to be open and honest with the people you’re engaging with. People can sense when you’re not being authentic and they generally don’t react well to that. Isolating your community by treating them as essentially different from yourself is a great way to cannibalise your social media network."  Given even your personal feelings, are the parties guilty of committing said faux pas being let go?

We have reviewed our social media policies, with help from experts, to make sure what we do from now on is very much in line with industry standards. We've included a set of promises from us to the community as well. These are all published on our Facebook page so it's very easy to understand and manage expectations from all sides. This experience has been a huge learning curve, both for management and the team.

We're all human beings and we all make mistakes. The times I've gotten into it at work there were extraneous circumstances taking their toll on me. For example, I'd lashed out at a coworker shortly after my aunt died. I let my emotions get the better of me. So I wonder, was there something else going on with the employee who was moderating* that day?

The management team take full responsibility for the actions of the Social Media team. We made a mistake and seriously misjudged the situation and we are incredibly sorry.

How much previous experience in social media does the rest of your team have?  Speaking of the team, I've noticed they've stopped signing off on their posts. Why is that?

Social media is a relatively new professional field - Facebook itself has only been around for ten years. We're lucky enough to have a young, dynamic team. As for the sign-offs, unfortunately several staff members were receiving threats and abuse both publicly and on their personal Social Media accounts. While we absolutely admit we made a mistake, we have a duty of care to our team and removing sign-offs is something we are trialling at the moment to keep them safe. We do love the personal touch of the sign-offs and hopefully we can resurrect that practice in the future, but not right now.

From a business standpoint, do you think any of your practices conflict with the first rule of business: the customer is always right?

Yes, in that context we absolutely did make a mistake. However when you're working online with social media, it can often be difficult to distinguish between who is actually a customer and who might just be commenting to add fuel to the fire or illicit a reaction.

You work with a lot of licenses. Have any of these companies-- Disney for example--been in contact with you after the incident?

We speak with our licensing partners basically daily. The situation had no impact on our relationship or future releases.

As someone who is very sarcastic and deadpan, I've had the misfortune of being grossly misinterpreted many times. Describe the Aussie sense of humor.  

The Aussie sense of humour is typically quite irreverent.

What is it that you love most about your job? What drives you to keep going every day?  

I love that I get to be part of something that makes people happy. I get emails every single day from people who tell me how Black Milk has been a hugely positive influence in their lives, from improving their self-confidence to helping them make friends through the community. That makes it easy to come back, day after day.

What would you like to say to the fans that have had negative experiences with Black Milk in the past?

We are truly sorry. We've grown very, very quickly and it's clear to us now that our policies and procedures hadn't grown alongside the rest of the company and desperately needed an update. We've reviewed our policies with help from industry experts to ensure we deal with situations like these differently in the future.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that we are very sorry and can assure everyone we've learnt a great deal from it all.


Let's review:

  • Black Milk has done many great things for their community in the past, and will continue to do so in the future.
  • Cameron strikes me as someone who genuinely cares about his team and the Black Milk fans. (My genuinely unbiased opinion). At the very least, we know he's very, VERY sorry.
  • We now know that the company has not taken the situation lightly, and that serious steps have been taken to rectify the situation and ensure this never happens again.

So what do you think? We'll probably never forget, but can we finally--for the sake of peace, love, and nylon-- forgive?

 

-Yissel

 

*update 9:08pm: name has been omitted.