Society: Waitrose Breaking Green Hearts and Social Media Etiquette this Valentine’s Day


This week Social Media Week is happening across the world, celebrating best practice and great ideas in social media. Sadly for the UK, Waitrose, one of the biggest names on the high street, have performed a series of serious social media errors. You may be wondering what qualifies me to make this statement. Well, until very recently I managed a Facebook page for one of the UK’s largest charities with over 4 times as many ‘likes’ as the Waitrose UK page.

Let me quickly set the scene: for the past week at Climate Rush we have been exposing oil company Shell’s environmental and ethical horror facts tweeting @shell with the hashtag #shellishell. During our research we discovered that last summer Shell announced a partnership with ‘ethical’ food retailer Waitrose who have opened two little Waitrose convenience shops on Shell forecourts. A group of us were a tad upset about this, especially as many of us regularly shop at Waitrose because of their supposed ‘ethical’ values. Quite frankly Waitrose broke our little green hearts.

So this week to mark Valentine’s Day we’ve decided to ask Waitrose to break up with Shell. Activists will be handing out oily biscuits and cakes outside the new Tottenham Court Waitrose reminding customers buying Valentine’s day gifts that nothing says ‘I love you’ less than Shell.

Waitrose haven’t taken kindly to having their ethical values questioned through social media. Let me explain how they showed a blatant lack of social media nous. At Climate Rush we decided to organise a little Facebook event to invite people along to our oily biscuit and cakes handout. We firstly did the pretty standard thing of posting on the Waitrose UK Facebook wall, inviting people along to our event. This post didn’t last long before it was removed with no explanation.

Well we thought this was a little harsh and told our supporters our post had been deleted and asked them to remind Waitrose to break up with Shell.

This led to a couple of people posting various posts on the Waitrose wall questioning the partnership with Shell. My post questioned why they are deleting people’s posts about their partnership with Shell, when they were shouting about it in the media back in September and a link to a news story about the partnership. This post was then deleted and I asked to see the house rules, viewed as the go-to resource of any Community Manager. This led to me being banned, no warnings to obide to the house rules which I hadn’t broken. And of course no explanation. I suppose that was to be expected as I hadn’t done anything wrong. Just straight-out banned for highlighting a partnership they were boasting about back in September.

It turned out that I wasn’t the only one to suffer the same fate yesterday. Below are a series of screenshots of posts which led to the posters being banned, none of these clearly violate the house rules. One poster called Lucy summed up the Waitrose approach to community management perfectly, stating her post had been deleted despite doing nothing but requesting Waitrose not to partner with Shell, she didn’t use any offensive language not even a capitalised word. Lucy has since been banned.

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In my experience, being a community manager requires a tough skin at times and yes, occasionally that does mean banning people as the last resort. Previously I have banned people for making strongly homophobic remarks, being overtly racist and inciting religious hatred. This is the kind of situation where I believe a community manager should be taking banning action. Dealing with disgruntled community members is part of the job description for any community manager. The Waitrose social media team are giving a masterclass in how to lose and alienate customers. They need to go back to basics and listen to community members questions and give clear honest answers. Even if the answers aren’t what the posters want to hear, honesty and transparency are always appreciated.

Owners of Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership, state on their website that they care about the environment and talk in depth about their commitment to tackling Climate Change. Waitrose’s partnership with Shell undermines their supposed commitment to protecting the environment. Shell are proven to be top of the league in showing a blatant disregard for the environment and in 2009 were found by Friends of the Earth to be the world’s most carbon intensive oil company. (See my article on the Huffington Post last week for further information).

It’s no wonder that ethical shoppers are dismayed by the partnership between Shell and Waitrose. If  Waitrose are confident their partnership with Shell aligns with their organisational ethics they shouldn’t be so aggressive and hostile towards polite posters in search of answers to ethically dodgy partnerships.

Unrelated to the Climate Rush campaign highlighting the Waitrose/Shell partnership, there are a number of other angry customers on the Waitrose Facebook community, criticising Waitrose for misleading policies and heavy handed community management censoring sensible debates.

It was announced in September 2011 that Manning Gottleib OMD will be managing the Waitrose social media presence. If anyone is looking for a anti-social agency then get in touch.