When Going Viral Is BAD for Business

Not all publicity is good!

When Earl’s Restaurants in Alberta made the decision to replace Alberta beef with non-Canadian beef, customers rebelled.

Earl’s decision went viral in a big way – and it definitely wasn’t positive. Months afterward, customers still avoid the restaurant and don’t trust claims that Earl’s has put Alberta beef back on their menu.

Earl’s believed they were doing the right thing in response to what their customers were saying by sourcing healthy, humanely slaughtered beef. What went wrong?

  • Earl’s didn’t fully understand their customers’ needs and wants.
  • Earl’s didn’t do their homework on their beef suppliers.
  • Earl’s didn’t explain their decision well.

Although Earl’s isn’t saying how much they lost with this gaff, you can be sure it was substantial. They reversed their decision in response to the social pressure. Now they publish “Earl’s Beef Report” in an attempt to regain positive social proof.

Is it working? When’s the last time you chose Earl’s over A&W?

A&W, in comparison, has done an excellent job in gaining positive social proof. They responded to their customers’ needs and wants in a positive way. Their website makes it very clear that they source eggs, chicken and pork from Canadian sources who follow A&W’s strict guidelines for hormone-free meat.

I sent A&W an email to find out more about their beef sources, as they don’t specifically say it is Canadian. Their response came back on the next business day. They DO source their beef from Canada, and when their Canadian ranchers – who meet their strict guidelines – can’t fulfill their order, they source elsewhere. They even named their Canadian suppliers. I’m completely satisfied with their response. It confirms to me that:

  • A&W understands what their customers want.
  • A&W researched and developed strong relationships with their suppliers to ensure they can meet customers’ needs.
  • A&W speaks the language of their customers.

This is a pretty basic comparison. Two companies who did the same thing in meeting customers’ requests for “healthy” beef.

Two very different approaches. Two very different results.

Both had the right idea about satisfying customers – but one company clearly came out ahead of the other.

The lesson for us? Words are powerful tools. Choosing the wrong words for your message can be catastrophic.

Larger companies have the resources to recover from bad social proof. Small businesses cannot afford to screw this up. If you get this wrong, your small business could simply fail. And, since you are not running a giant corporation, chances are good that no one will even notice that you’re gone.

POSITIVE social proof is essential in your marketing materials. The reasons are obvious. If you market to consumers (B2C) it’s even more important. Consumers are more likely to be influenced by their peers’ reviews and recommendations.

Make sure that your customers are putting your best foot forward.

There are smart, easy, and inexpensive ways to develop positive social proof for your company. It’s not enough to simply post regularly on your social media accounts. You need a plan for WHAT you say, HOW you say it, WHO you say it to, and WHEN you say it.

Get in touch with me to learn how you can promote positive social proof for your business.


  1. After posting this, several flyers showed up in the mail. French’s is using 100% Canadian tomatoes in their ketchup, and 100% Canadian mustard seeds for their mustard. Save-On grocery stores devote a full page of their flyer to BC products – organic chicken and BC grown fruits and vegetables.
    Canadian sourced and locally sourced products and services are getting a lot of attention. Think about how you can incorporate that trend into your marketing.
    If you are not buying local, why not?

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