Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Sunshine

Yesterday I posted about Sunshine Village and their handling of some controversy on their Facebook page. It turns out that I made a few mistakes.

Mr Doug Firby, Associate Director, Communications for Sunshine Village emailed me directly to point out some of the errors of my post. Some things I wrote about have not been proven as fact. So I should have used more words such as 'allegedly' and 'apparently'. For those possible misrepresentations, I publicly apologize to Sunshine Village and to Mr. Firby. At the bottom of this post I have cut and paste a portion of Mr. Firby's email which directly addresses his concerns about what I said. I believe that is fairest for me to do for Sunshine Village as it addresses the comments I made in his words, not in mine.

However, the real facts of the situation are not pertinent to this blog. I'm not here to discuss what actually happened. That is for those involved to sort out between themselves.

This blog is about mobile marketing, and by extension social media marketing. My commentary is about their handling of the event on their Facebook page. And nobody can disagree that it probably hasn't been handled in the best way.

In yesterday's post I mentioned that at no time did Sunshine Village hold up their hand to their Facebook audience and make a bold, pronouncing statement of what happened, what is happening and what is going to happen, in a way that assures consumers that the right steps are being taken. The sample message I wrote yesterday was "Yes, we know there are some challenges with our staffing right now, and we are working to resolve those issues. We are also sorry to inconvenience anybody who was planning to ski at Sunshine Village on January 19th."

Mr. Firby indicates (see his comments below) that there were numerous examples of Sunshine Village attempting to respond to comments on their Facebook page. I was wrong, he is correct.

However, responses that I saw were inside the comments. And many of them came from Mr. Firby himself, using his own Facebook ID. So it wasn't clear, from a consumer point of view, that he was responding on behalf of Sunshine Village. And while addressing the individual Facebook user comments can be important, this situation warranted something much bigger in the bold, pronouncing statement. In this case, a Facebook status update would be more appropriate, and the message should be written to assure the Facebook fans of Sunshine Village that appropriate steps were being taken to address the situation.

Although I have already apologized for some inaccuracies, it is important to note that all of my information was gathered from Sunshine Village's own Facebook page. While this doesn't exactly ensure its accuracy (much of it came from comments), it DOES represent what most people who follow the Facebook page will believe. And those beliefs (accurate or not) could lead to a negative image for Sunshine Village.

I also note that the worst part of the entire episode, the posting of a link to an article about bad behaviour on the internet, has now been removed. This is proper - it should never have been posted in the first place.

I don't believe this story has ended. Sunshine Village still has an opportunity to fix this, but it will take some work. Time will tell how this finishes.

See also: Even More Sunshine.


Here are Mr. Firby's comments copied from an email sent to me. Only the part of yesterday's post that had comments on it has been copied.


Apparently several senior members of the mountain patrol staff (IT IS NOT ACCURATE TO SAY SEVERAL SENIOR PATROL STAFF WERE DISMISSED)were recently fired. The reasons for their firing have not been made public, but according to the rumourmill (on their Facebook page) the firings were controversial. So much so that a large majority of the staff (??? THIS SUGGESTS ALL STAFF – IT WAS ACTUALLY NINE PATROLLERS WHO PHONED IN “SICK”) chose not to come to work the following day to support their fired colleagues. This led to most of the mountain being closed, and a number of upset customers who had driven fair distances only to have the bunny hills (MOST PEOPLE WHO HAVE SKIED WAWA AND STANDISH WOULD NOT CALL THEM “BUNNY HILLS.” THEY HAD BLACK AND DOUBLE-BLACK DIAMOND RUNS) available.

What has followed has been nothing short of a social media PR disaster for the mountain. One that every marketer should study.

On January 19th, it was announced that a number of the employees were sick, and that 9 (EIGHT) of the 12 lifts would be closed that day. This post was made at 10:34 AM, not exactly enough time to allow people to make other plans. Following the post are 88 comments, many of them from locals who claim to know the real reason the lifts were closed; the staff were on strike (STRIKE IS A LEGAL TERM REFERRING TO LAWFUL PROTEST. UNLESS A COMPANY IS UNIONIZED, ANY WITHDRAWAL OF SERVICES CONSTITUTES AN ILLEGAL JOB ACTION.) to protest (ALLEGED) unfair firings. According to some posts, the original four were fired after confronting some people who were skiiing in a closed area of the mountain, one of whom is a family member of the owner. (AGAIN, SUNSHINE CANNOT COMMENT ON PERSONNEL ISSUES.)

The comments express some serious anger toward the mountain for decisions made that led to this. And for being essentially closed (except for bunny hills) (SEE NOTE ABOVE) on short notice.(THE CLOSURES WERE NECESSITATED FOR SAFETY REASONS. SINCE WE HAD NO ADVANCE NOTICE OF THE JOB ACTION, IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO GIVE GUESTS ADVANCE NOTICE, AND WERE ONLY ABLE TO COMMUNICATE ONCE WE UNDERSTOOD WE HAD FEWER PATROLLERS ON DUTY THAN NORMAL.) Among those 88 comments, many of which are scathing for the resort, Sunshine Village responded exactly zero times.

In another bit of storyline, two other staff members claim they were fired for participating in the non-work-day protest. Apparently some of the fired staffers are seeking legal advice.

Subsequent posts in the following days by Sunshine Village on their page offer status reports of which lifts were open. But none addressed the concerns raised in the comments. (THIS IS COMPLETELY UNTRUE. WE HAVE A TRANSCRIPT OF ALL CONVERSATIONS ON FACEBOOK, AND THERE ARE NUMEROUS EXAMPLES OF THE COMPANY ATTEMPTING TO RESPOND TO QUESTIONS. AS YOU MIGHT EXPECT, EACH RESPONSE ONLY ESCALATED THE VITRIOL, AND SO WE EVENTUALLY CHOSE TO RESPOND VERY SELECTIVELY TO INFORMATION REQUESTS (e.g. “are all lifts running today”, “can I get a refund”, etc.) Each of these posts garnered significant comments, again many of them scathing.

In perhaps the worst bit of PR I've seen in a long time, the January 24th post by Sunshine Village on their Facebook page was this:


So instead of addressing the general concerns of their Facebook fans, they effectively accused them of collective bad behaviour. Instead of facing the issues, they became defensive.

This has led to a number of other scathing comments on their Facebook page. Clearly, Sunshine had no plan to deal with their public relations via Facebook in a time of crisis. And it has now also spilled over onto Twitter, Yelp and probably other social media areas. Not to mention the writeups in the local newspaper, the Calgary Sun and on the CBC news website.

Although they did offer a $20 discount (COUPON) that day (off a $70+ lift ticket), ($79, INCLUDING gst) that wasn't enough. Anybody who showed up that day should have been allowed to ski their 3 open lifts for no charge, AND should have been given a voucher for another free ski day.

More importantly, at no time did Sunshine step forward and say (via their Facebook page) "Yes, we know there are some challenges with our staffing right now, and we are working to resolve those issues. We are also sorry to inconvenience anybody who was planning to ski at Sunshine Village on January 19th." (THIS IS COMPLETELY UNTRUE. WE HAVE A TRANSCRIPT OF ALL CONVERSATIONS ON FACEBOOK, AND THERE ARE NUMEROUS EXAMPLES OF THE COMPANY ATTEMPTING TO RESPOND TO QUESTIONS.)


Marketers need to have a plan. Social media needs to be based around a strategy. And contingencies must be in place to deal with crises. Otherwise, you are just flailing in the dark.


  1. Mr. Firby still doesn't get it...
    Or maybe he does but is powerless to do something because ultimately he answers to Scurfield who seems to feel that the best way to take care of a problem involving his son is to fire employees for doing their jobs.

    At this point it really doesn't matter if what has been said is true or not. At this point it has a life of it's own and people will believe that they want to. What is certain is that they are not in control of their PR, that it is becoming apparent that they do not have the capacity within their organization get control of it.

    My suggestion, take a good look at who you are being as a company, how it effects those in your community and work to mend fences, rather then to prove you are right. Then, last but not least hire a consultant to come in and fix what you can't.

  2. Mr. Firby doesn't address SSV's marketing of the offer by Lake Louise to honor SSV season passes. Omitting the fact that SSV had no role in the offer, and presenting it as a bonus to season pass holders, SSV was at best not completely honest, at worst...It may have seemed clever at the time, but it only added fuel to the fire. Epic fail, Mr. Firby. One more example that former newspaper men seldom make good marketers.

  3. Since the original blog post was about PR disasters in the social networking era, thought I would highlight this gem from Doug Firby's FB page in response to friends' commiseration for his hardship on Jan 19 when the merde started hitting the fan:

    Doug Firby: Catching the first flight back to Maui . . . all good. ;-)

    Great publicly available attitude from management!

    The Maui part is especially ripe considering the financial joy of people facing being suddenly fired....

    Class act all around from SSV management, and further discussion material for next year's seminars on How to Screw up Your Company's Rep in less than 5 easy steps....

  4. More misinformation from Doug Firby - neither Standish nor Wawa have any double-black runs. Firby, have you even skiied at the resort you so incompetently attempt to defend? Also, do you kiss your mother/children with the same mouth you spout all your lies with?

  5. I thought it fair to clarify something. According to the Sunshine Village Trail Map on their website, the Wawa Quad chair feeds two black diamond runs and the Mount Standish Express chair feeds a handful of black diamond runs.

  6. I have to admit, watching from the sidelines, this has been a thrill to see how ineptly management seems to have handled this situation.

    I don't actually think that they can save this. However, I think that SSV can rest easy in that eventually the media will tire of this and it will all fade into obscurity with their client base. Sad, but true.

    What would really be great, however, is if we saw SSV's patronage drop significantly as a result of poor management practice both from an employee relations standpoint and from a transparency standpoint with their public.

  7. Steve - There are no double blacks accessible from those chairs. Just blacks.

  8. Ok fair enough. But certainly there's more terrain available than just 'bunny-hills' that many people alluded to on SV's Facebook page, and that I subsequently alluded to in my original post.

  9. Again, Mr. Firby is demonstrating that he is clueless about the mountain and social media marketing.
    This will be a university class.
    I do feel badly for Mr. Firby,as he is trying to defend the indefensible.

  10. Steve... Thank you for looking at this from a purely social media point of view.

    To me this is a case of having a very traditional press-release based marketing department not understand the power of social media.

    In order to utilize Twitter, Facebook and the Web to its full potential you need to be open and provide regular good clear honest information.

    Guest should be able to make well informed decisions based on accurate information.... You then remove the opportunity for them to be disappointed on arrival. Better to lose one days business but keep a customer, than to grab a day ticket sale and never see them again.

    If something negative is happening, be upfront about it. Imagine how powerful twitter could have been as soon as there were signs of a limited operation that day?

    Unfortunately, SSV's social media policy is to make everything seem perfect, go silent when it's not.

    For example.... their snow report states "Many double diamond blacks are open"... Which ones? That is not available.... Mr Firby states above that they are selectively replying to requests for information.... I asked which double-black runs are open on FB and have received no reply in just over an hour... no good if I were to be planning a trip out there today.

    Don't even get me started on the fact their head of communications doesn't even know his product (The double-black on Wawa/Standish issue and The description of the 800 backcountry acres in the Calgary Sun are examples)

    Sunshine has the product. Marketing it should be easy. However they are currently making it look like a high-school project.

  11. Mr Firby:
    Let's start with a couple of questions that should not be covered by any confidentiality requirements.
    1. Was Mr. Taylor Scurfield apprehended out of bounds on December 19?

    2. Was is the usual penalty, specified by SSV, when a skier is so apprehended?

    3. Are there rules at SSV that instruct employees to exempt some offending skiers?

    These should be easy questions. We can go on from there.

  12. Looks like they have given up with the FB page and started a fresh.... All previous comments removed and no further posting by the looks of it!

  13. Yes, they have deleted the page entirely. This completes the "manual" on how NOT to handle PR issues. Movie to follow.....

  14. Firby is an old school PR hack. Spin the bullshit and treat your audience like fools.

    Guess it doesn't work anymore.

  15. everyone should know that on the CAA website sunshine village was advertising for ski patrol hiring on 1-22-11. Really creepy

  16. Checj out Sunshine Village official facebook page now. lots of talk about epic pow!