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As the social media furore escalates over Art Caffe’s racism snafu, here are 4 steps to manage the crisis

Its amazing what can happen in 24 hours or so on social media that can damage a major brand, even in Kenya. What happened at Art Caffe’s Village Market branch yesterday morning can only be described as outrageous by any standards in a country that is celebrating 50 years of independent rule.

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One of the Art Caffe Memes that has emerged since yesterday’s incident

The story goes something like this. An African gentleman arrives at Village Market’s Art Caffe and orders 12 croissants for takeaway. He is then told by the owner that he cannot order a dozen croissants since they are too many and he is black after all. The African gentlemen takes offense and immediately makes it known that he is upset by being racially insulted. The Art Caffe owner then summons the Diplomatic Police based at the Village Market who then arrest the African gentleman and lock him up for 2 hours before being released. However, so I hear, the Art Caffe owner then issues a letter of apology which is shared on a Facebook Group for all to see by his sister. End of story, or so Art Caffe thought.

As of this morning, and in roughly 24 hours, even though mainstream media may not have fully picked up the Art Caffe racism story, the decibels of chatter around this incident have been escalating massively on Facebook and Twitter. It has gone so far as to spawn a meme on Art Caffe croissants that are actually pretty original and funny! People have set up twitter hashtags for #racistartcaffe, #boycottartcaffe and #occupyartcaffe so that more and more people can stop patronizing their restaurants. Someone has gone as far as setting up a Twitter handle called @croissantsKE. In a nutshell, if Art Caffe thought this would just blow over they are gravely mistaken – its only going to get noisier and nastier from this point onwards. A lot noisier and louder by the looks of things seeing that it was on the radio this morning and is being gradually picked up by mainstream media, courtesy of social media 🙂

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Another Art Caffe Meme

When all is said and done though, its important to put Art Caffe’s racism snafu on social media in the context of the whole country. The majority of Kenyans could not give a hoot about Art Caffe. Why? Its quite simple, its an upmarket restaurant chain based in Nairobi that serves middle to upper middle class Kenyans as well heeled expatriates. This is a relatively small number of people in the grand scheme of things so this issue will not matter that much to most Kenyans. However, if nothing else, even the very same Kenyans who would not be able to afford Art Caffe now know who Art Caffe are and what they (apparently?) stand for as a brand – outright and blatant racism at the very apex of their organization. This alone must disgust them and may ensure they never experience this brand given that there are other very good alternative brands such as the Nairobi Java House chain. At the same time, Art Caffe’s patrons must be appaled at this turn of events, whether they are black or not, which is sure to erode the brand’s equity and bottom line going forward, unless they take quick and decisive action to manage the fallout that is currently gaining momentum by the second.

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Art Caffe thread on Facebook

The truth of the matter is that Art Caffe is in no way unique in screwing up in that globally lots of brands have screwed up and gotten exposed via social media. In Kenya alone, there are an estimated 10 million Internet users who are largely on mobile devices. I am going to do a thumb suck that if Facebook has close to 2.5 million users in Kenya, Twitter at least 1.5 million and Linkedin 0.6 million then it stands to reason that at least 3 million or so people use social media in this country? Therefore, on this basis, at least 1 million people by now probably(?) know about the Art Caffe racism snafu? And growing? Thats pretty large for 24 hours of brand bashing on social media!

For the longest time, I like many others have heard of the aforementioned moments of racism at Art Caffe. This is a well-known and has just been validated by the proprietor doing it himself to one of their customers. Personally, I have never experienced any racist incidents at Art Caffe to-date and I have always had good service even if at times the staff do appear to need a little polishing in how they engage customers (this by the way I can live with comfortably). However, if I was the said owner of Art Caffe who did the unthinkable yesterday these are the social media crisis management steps I would take to redeem myself and the Art Caffe brand right away:

Accept responsibility and show remorse publicly on social media.

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#ArtCaffe trending on Twitter

This needs to happen like RIGHT NOW. The Art Caffe owner needs to use the very same social media that has been turned against them to counter the negative message. This means jumping online, and posting an apology letter of what happened from a personal and organizational point of view. This should be taken even further to have a YouTube video showing the apology with the insulted customer accepting the said apology. This in itself would make a huge impact to Art Caffe’s customers and other people who have been following up this story. I would go as far as to say that the Art Caffe owner should also say that he is getting “help” for his racism problem and hopes to become a better person as result (yes, seriously). Many global brands have had to do this to have customers stay with them after they took a beating via social media – just look at the video apology below from Domino’s Pizza who had a big problem a few years ago when 2 employees posted a YouTube video of them doing despicable things to a Pizza:

Demonstrate how this problem is being resolved throughout the organisation.

Art Caffe needs to take action and visibly show that this long standing perception and now reality of being seen as racist is being resolved immediately. This means training the staff to ensure that they do not deliver variable levels of services depending on someones race. It also means having signage and other prompts on-site that clearly state that they have a zero tolerance policy on racism and that all customers are served equally. Also, if any customer feels they have been served in a manner that suggests racist behaviour they can report to management and expect prompt action on the same with clear guidelines.

Rally the brand loyalists.

Art Caffe needs to rally its biggest brand loyalists on social media to start sharing the message that change is happening and that they working on solving their perception of being a racist brand. This sort of brand outreach will ensure that people start to see the human side of Art Caffe showing that they are committed to beating the negative perception they created by taking active steps to resolve it completely.

Keep at it and be vigilant.

Art Caffe would need to remain vigilant that this sort of thing never happens again from the top to the bottom as most customers will now be on the look out for any signs of the past rearing their head. This means that Art Caffe has to invest in keeping up the right activities and initiatives that will contain the racist problem they seem to have had for a long time by the looks of things.

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9 Comments

  1. June 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm — Reply

    … OR, they could keep quiet and observe their bottom line. I honestly don’t think they will be affected by this. Artcaffe is a place where minorities in Kenya go to be together amongst themselves in cultural settings familiar to what they have back home. As long as Artcaffe has that, then they will be in business.

    • June 19, 2013 at 2:02 pm — Reply

      @majani true indeed. However, for sure its done some brand damage and people will be wary of them, especially the locals. Time will tell. You should wait to see my next post coming up by the weekend…It gets better 🙂

      • June 20, 2013 at 5:15 am — Reply

        I’m with Bwana Majani on this. The MD of Java was arrested and charged with molesting underage girls a while back (he was later acquitted – http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/1130882/-/1103nc1z/-/index.html ) not only did we get over it, but the company was acquired by venture capitalists.

        Bad service happens, I wouldn’t say it is an existential risk, not in Kenya anyway.

        Defilement! Minors! But people still take their children to Java! our collective memory is rather fickle

    • Perry Gathu
      June 21, 2013 at 8:42 am — Reply

      I disagree with Mr.Majani that they should go quiet. Social Media platform has destroyed big brands around the world. Considering the target customers Artcaffe targets, this should be reason enough why they shouldn’t ignore this issue. The history of this country and Africa as a whole has made us very sensitive to racism incidences. The Artcaffe customers (they being diplomats or the upper-middle class) might be afraid of being associated with a brand associated with racism

      I totally agree with Moses Kemibaro on the view that they should take ownership of this. However I disagree on the view that they should produce a You-tube video. Unless am wrong, this issue is only trending on Twitter, blogs and Facebook. It is therefore not advisable to introduce the saga on a new channel. From a PR angel, the best thing to do is try and contain the issue as much as possible. Producing a video clip will be a way of publicizing the issue further.

  2. Ben Kairu
    June 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm — Reply

    Excellent analysis and pointers. On a side note, a lot of Kenyan bloggers spew out trash and its quite a relief to read a sober and well executed post with good grammar of course. Kumbe we are not yet beyond redemption.

    • June 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm — Reply

      @ben thanks for the positive feedback. Glad to know you appreciate my blog. Keep reading – I plan to get a lot busier on it going forward with lots of great stories.

  3. TheBigBoss
    June 20, 2013 at 7:53 am — Reply

    I concur with comment above, excellent post… at least, you don’t jump like many other bloggers on this story like bees on honey !

    I stopped going to ArtCaffe because I hate its false-chic Nairobi clientèle (KCs and Nairobi chic) and food is below average for price… It’s all about hype ! I went there four times and it’s just bad ! And I never go Village Market because it is just expensive (I hope Alai’s friend who live in Gigire and go to Village Market gave a good contribution to Alai’s harambee to pay his bails)

    I know ArtCaffe already has some issues before regarding customer service (racist or not) but as you say all companies have issues (remember the hotels at coast issue)… generalising this private matter into a national witch-hunt and calling for all foreigners out or asking for their head to be chopped or deportation, etc. it is just wrong.

    Turning a nobody-care/few-care story into a national matter by posting inflammatory posts targeting a specific group of the population on FB in order to speak to the mass and increase popularity is wrong and can be called “populism”… and if you see list of famous populists throughout history, you will notice that there is a thin line between populism and fascism. I guess with time, we will see more and more extreme political views in Kenya such as the extreme right in Europe (foreigners out, national pride, buy national, no COMESA/no unique currency, etc.), sadly it is part of the “progress”. When this will happen, I know that the daily friendly (but still annoying) “hey mzungu” to remind me I am white (as for me, we are all human being) I get in Nairobi CBD will be less and less friendly and more of a warning.

    As for the Java Brand, the owner was charged for sleeping with not one but many underaged girls and sentenced to jail and brand never really suffered of that !!

  4. Jackie Arkle
    June 22, 2013 at 7:35 pm — Reply

    Hi Moses,

    Good analysis and you hit the nail hard on its head. However, this is not the first time racism has reared its ugly head at Art Caffe. Remember the first time it happened was in February this year and I posted on their wall thrice..each time, they deleted my posts and then they finally blocked me from posting and then they started to abuse me and I was called all manner of names and was even told that I was bribed by my former boss to bring down Art Caffe…yet all I did was copy and paste a complaint from my group page – Stop Racism In Hotels In Kenya by a Kenyan of Indian decent who had undergone racism at Art Caffe and I wanted to know why this bad vice was still taking place as my family and I had also undergone the same at both Westgate and Galleria Mall branch. The only time I’ve ever had any good experience was because I was with a certain HIGH PROFILE personality whom they all knew ! Anyway, truth be told, they cannot worm their way out of this one. A lot will be exposed…

  5. […] recent experience with Artcaffe, synonymous with the infamous ‘croissant’ incident, tells me they might actually fall in the latter […]

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