Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Social Media Fail

Nearly every business owner knows by now that they should probably have a Facebook page. The trouble is, many of them don't know why.

Most will say that it's to help their consumers learn more about their brand, or that it might in some vague way enable their consumers to spread their (the company's) brand messages. Or they simply want one because their competitors have one.

While none of this is untrue, the most important thing to remember is that it all starts with a strategy. Like any marketing activity, a Facebook page must fit with the overall brand message and be integrated into all of the other marketing activities.

Furthermore, any social media marketing activity must have a plan for when things go south.

Witness the recent activity on the Facebook page for ski resort Sunshine Village. It has been gathering interest for the wrong reasons.

Apparently several senior members of the mountain patrol staff 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 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 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 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 to protest 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.

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) on short notice. 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. 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 that day (off a $70+ lift ticket), 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."

Instead they have allowed the rumours to fester and accused their Facebook fans of bad behaviour.

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.

(See the follow up to this post)


  1. Good writeup. It's also worth adding.

    1. January 25th, they removed Facebook / Twitter from having prominent position on their main page in an attempt to manage the bad PR.

    2. They have also been censoring peoples comments about the situation by deleting them from Facebook.

    3. No discount was offered for season pass holders that turned up on that day. Their marketing manager (Doug Firby), is offering no credit or refund for that date.

    4. Their latest attempt to address their PR spin is this in their newsletter to season pass holders yesterday:
    "Your Sunshine Village seasons's pass gets you a Free Day at Lake Louise from now until Friday, 28th only. Ski two resorts in one day with your Sunshine Village 2010/11 season's pass".
    Lake Louise a number of days ago offered season pass holders from Sunshine free skiing in response to Sunshines issues. This attempt by Sunshine Village insults their customers further by making out that it was their idea. This is sleezy.

  2. So here is the whole story.

    On December 19th one of Sunshine’s younger patrollers Charlie Hitchman noticed a group of young males in a closed area of the mountain. While getting them to exit the area they became abusive, and belligerent and saying “do you know who I am”. At one point the group actually threatened to do him physical harm. He had them escorted to the village where they were lectured about closures and had their ID’s checked, and VIP passes temporarily taken. It turns out the “don’t you know who I am” person was Thomas Taylor Scurfield son of Ralph Scurfield the owner. Taylor was home visiting from his first year at U Vic. His friends were younger I believe from Calgary. After the talking to they were allowed to return to skiing. This was special treatment, as normally they would have been escorted off of the property.

    At no point were they treated in any way badly. In fact if he were not the owners son the group would have likely been escorted off of the property completely.

    This obviously got back to Ralph and the parents of the other males.

    On December 29th as staff were arriving for work there were extra security and cabs waiting at the Bourgeau Base area. Three of the main mountain operations managers, Chris Chevalier Mountain Operations Manager, Rowan Harper Snow Safety Supervisor, and Ben Chevalier Lift Operations Supervisor, as well as a senior patroller Chris Conway were terminated without warning, and with no just cause, escorted off of the hill into the waiting cabs and sent home.

    In total about 88 years of experience was lost in a moment. These were people that dedicated themselves completely to this hill for most of their adult lives. They worked with a dedication and passion rarely seen anymore. They affected change in the industry, and turned Sunshine into the fantastic place it is. In their tenure there they set a work ethic that has shaped many young peoples lives, leading with compassion and by example. Working alongside their staff in any conditions. Countless lives were touched, helped, and saved by these people, and they did it all for the love of the mountain they called HOME. They grew up there, as did their children. They were working towards teaching the next generation to pass the torch to.

  3. ...cont

    In the aftermath of this the remaining staff were left with no leadership, a lack of experience and the feeling they had lost their family. They were given no direction from upper management and no succession plan. Some were asked to take on roles they knew they were not yet ready to fill, and they were worried. The management asked them to trust them, but there was no feeling of trust left and as they waited they felt that there was still no direction, and perhaps more staff positions were in jeopardy.

    Management did not seem interested in the safety concerns that they raised with them. They continued on understaffed, overworked, stressed, and just trying to do the best job they could. All of this is in the middle of the most unstable snow pack in decades. Each day they just wanted to make sure everyone got home safe, staff and guests alike.

    On January 18th the young patroller that originally pulled Taylor Scurfield out of the closure was let go. He had been asked to write a letter of apology to the Scurfield’s and he did so, with the understanding it would save his job. Although everything he did was following the policies of the ski hill. Management obviously never had any intention of keeping him employed.

    This was the last straw for the rest of the staff, and they decided the only way their voice could be heard was by having a one-day one-time protest by not going to work. Some had already been working while they were sick and injured to cover the staff shortages and so they called in sick. They gathered together in Canmore.

    This sudden staff shortage left Sunshine with too few staff to operate. They cut some corners against their own safety guidelines, and the advice of supervisors, and opened anyway at a diminished capacity, Strawberry, Standish, and Wawa. They did not initially inform skiers and did not tell the truth to the public as to why lifts were closed. They eventually offered people $20 “gift certificates” for a later date. Not surprisingly people were angry and when it hit the news the rumors started flying.

    The press got wind of the “protest” and two patrol staff stood up and became spokesmen for the rest of the staff, at the jeopardy of their jobs. They felt it was a risk that needed to be taken to let the public know the safety concerns they had since the loss of all their experienced leaders.

  4. ...cont

    Sunshine management denied any knowledge of bad morale, safety concerns, or that they knew staff were planning to walk out. But management had started alternate measures for gondola evac staffing the day before. They said they hoped all the staff was ok and hoped they would be back at work the next day. That night they interrogated a supervisor on who was in a picture taken at the gathering with the press. They were preparing for the staff coming back the next day and looking for whom they could blame.

    The patrol staff arrived at work on January 20th to Management interrogating them one by one. The spokesmen from the day before were told they could leave then, or work the day and hear their jobs fate at the end of shift. They both chose to work their shift. Management was looking to go after who ever they could.

    At the end of the day Craig McArthur, and Jock Richardson the two spokesmen were fired and escorted off of the hill and banned from the property. During the discussion they had with owners and management they asked why Charlie Hitchman had been let go. They were told it was because he showed “bad judgment” in removing Taylor Scurfield and friends from the closed area. The owner also threatened legal action against all the staff that protested.

    Now the patrol is more short staffed and have lost another close to 30 years of experience. They are demoralized, devastated, and still in fear of losing the jobs they love. When you see them they look sad. They are trying their best to do their job under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

    This is the story without any embellishment or untruths. Management has made up some other reasoning’s for the dismissals, but none of them hold any weight.
    (Ben Chevalier was only fired because he is Chris Chevalier’s nephew. “Blood is thicker than water,” he was told.)

  5. Last time Sunshine ever sees me as a customer, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. The entitlement with which Mr. Scurfield appears to have raised his son and the lesson he is teaching him now by putting his entitlement above the safety and security of the resort (ie. the paying public) and the fact that he is prepared to go to the wall rather than admit a mistake has been made and make it right… well, the only way I can "vote" on what happens with this resort (which I have enjoyed skiing for 30+ years) is with my wallet -- despite the fact that it operates on land that I, as a Canadian taxpayer, owns.

  6. Sounds like management at Sunshine are as clueless as at KHMR..

    Once again the guys at the top think the 'Sunshine's (excuse me, couldn't resist it ha ha) outa their *ss when in fact their heads are so far up their own they can't see the sunshine..

  7. Ei yi yi... what a mess.

    Great post and example about what NOT to do on Facebook.

    Although I know the Banff Lake Louise Tourism FB pages have also been known to delete unfavourable posts... but, to each his own method of moderating I suppose.

  8. Although I had not yet been to Sunshine, we are from Manitoba and were planning a family trip. I will never spend a dollar at a place that treats its employees this way, I am a working man and will not spend my hard earned dollars at a place owned by an idiot that puts his pompous son's feelings ahead of the future of his business and his hard working employees...

  9. I think legal action should be brought against young Scurfield for putting everyone at risk by skiing in the CLOSED area. It should not matter who you are, when the sign says closed, it should be respected at all times.

    Also bring this matter to Employment services and find a way to sue Sunshine Village management for wrongful dismissal. If this is the truth on how it came about, you have grounds to file a lawsuit. I'm sure you will get support from all concerned.

    Stick it to them. They cannot get away with this. I'm sharing this on my facebook, hope more will follow.

  10. I am also from Manitoba, and was also planning a trip there. I will not go to Sunshine. The actions of the owner and management is and was deplorable.
    The very idea that whimsy of the self appointed "priviledged few" overshadows common sense and safety is outdated and hedonistic. I do hope this hill sinks.

  11. >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.

    Yes they do, when the going gets tough, kill the social media.

    Sunshine's facebook page has been deleted.

  12. It would be interesting to have had another outcome to this scenario. What would have happened if Mr Entitled and friends had been injured while in the out of bounds area. I'm guessing that kid would have been let go for not getting them out of the area.

  13. Come to Jasper's Marmot Basin and ski the friendly slopes!

  14. Sunshine is a corporation just like any other. The only reason you all are getting up in arms is that you believed Sunshine cared. They don't, never did and never will. They know they can get dime-a-dozen staff of children who would sacrifice their souls for a "free" ski-pass. Industrial action is doing sweet fuck all and only irritating the populace. If you really want to make a difference find other jobs, have all staff quit on the same day and appeal to the media and/or legal avenues.

  15. By the way...Manitoba - all ski hills treat their staff the same way - over worked and under paid. Are you seriously going to stop skiing over terrible employment conditions? I somehow don't think you would prefer bootpacking.

  16. Isn't Marmot Basin part owned by Sunshine?

  17. I hate it when people in power think that they are above the law - or in this case rules and regulations which apply to anybody using Sunshine's facilities. Closures aren't put into place to "hide powder stashes" from the general public. They are there because of hazards like avalanches, rocks, cliffs, etc. What if the Scurfield boy triggered a slide, trapping, or maybe even killing them. Then what? Would ski patrol be held responsible?

    The wrongfully dismissed employees should seek legal advice and go after Ralph and his fortune. These guys do not owe the owner or the mountain anything! They weren't working to become rich, or retire with a sweet pension; Sunshine's pockets are way too deep to offer long time staff any sort of RRSP, Health & Dental, or even proper wages for the life-long commitment they have made. All the while the owner is living in a pretty dreamy million-dollar home in Banff.

    Go get-em boys & girls. You deserve better then what they've offered you!

  18. Enough to make Ski Corp (squaw valley U$A) proud.

  19. Ralph D. Scurfield is a director of Jasper's Marmot Basin; in which Sunshine Village has a major shareholding.

  20. "By the way...Manitoba - all ski hills treat their staff the same way - over worked and under paid."

    I worked 2 seasons at Sunshine years ago and know the conditions (which have not changed in the years since then) and knew the people that were fired. Then I worked 3 season out in Whistler. This problem, at least Alberta vs BC, is an Alberta resort issue. I was compensated more than fairly at WB compared to what I was getting at Sunshine.

    Absolutely, there will always be people that will sell their souls for the free pass, but at some point the Corporations need to take responsibility for the treatment of the people that drive their industry (and that is not the paying customers, it's the people that are there to serve the paying customers). I was a casualty of the mass WB lay-offs 2 years ago in Whistler, pre-olympics, but even though I lost my job I never became bitter and jaded because until the point that the Corporation had to make a financial decision to cut back on payroll and let a bunch of us go, I was always treated fairly and with respect.

    Alberta resorts such as Sunshine and Lake Louise seem to have the mistaken idea that they are world class resorts, and before I moved out to BC I thought they were also. They could both take a lesson from TRUE world class resorts such as WB and see how things really should be done. I hope Scurfield gets hung out to dry, change needs to happen in these resorts and this could be the catalyst. Then again, there is some saying about old dogs and new tricks; I doubt that just because he gets sued he's going to suddenly realize the errors of his ways and start compensating and treating his staff fairly. Why would he, when there will always be someone that will take it up the *ss for that pass?

  21. Just remember that skiing is not an industry. It is an `old boys club.` And it looks like the youngest generation of `boys`are already flexing their muscle over the peons.

    Although often a tool, when used incorrectly social media can very quickly destroy all goodwill acquired over many years.

    Vote with your feet.

  22. Isn't it interesting to see the speculation that goes on, when only one side of the story is presented. You really think that Sunshine would terminate senior staff in the middle of the busiest parts of the season over a brat? Coddled little Taylor's stupid actions only served as a better story.

    The whole story, that I heard from employees who would have heard from people more "in the know" than mountain staff, is that it was discovered that certain senior staff members were openly participating and condoning staff to drink while on duty and while operating vehicles and heavy machinery. Sunshine didn't have any choice in terminating with cause.

    The majority of Sunshine staff doesn't know, because if the truth was told, it would violate the 4's privacy rights (which WOULD open Sunshine up to a lawsuit.)

    As much of a douche Taylor Scurfield is, firing these 4 was in the best interest of the company and of guest safety.

  23. If this angle about the four being fired for letting employees work while intoxicated and operating heavy machinery is true, why whouldn't SSV make it be publicly known that they were fired due to "Severe Safety Violations" rather than "no comment"?

    A very nasty picture is being painted against SSV...sure they have legal obligations but I'm skeptical that the privacy rights of the four fired are what's preventing Scurfield and SSV from making any statements to clear their name. I'm not sure I'm buying this...

  24. The comment stating "openly participating and condoning staff to drink while on duty and operate heavy machinery" is complete rubbish.

    I worked with three of the four in the late 1980's. I can attest that this is complete BS with 100% confidence.

    Whomever is spreading these lies is clearly in the pay of the Scurfield clan. You simply can't lie your way out of this Ralph Co.

  25. Having worked at the ski area in the past and continuing in a volunteer capacity, and knowing the personalities involved (including the Scurfields), I can unequivocally say that it's complete garbage to claim that any of the four senior staff that were fired condoned drinking or drugs on the job, or did so themselves. If anything, their emphasis on safety above everything else probably rubbed ownership the wrong way (someone had to be responsible, and it certainly wasn't party boy Ralph Scurfield). Anybody who's a Sunshine insider knows that Scurfield was an obnoxious, abusive drunk and that the snow around his nose didn't fall from the sky. Likewise, his children are out of control, obnoxious spoiled brats.

  26. Steve,

    Pls don't offer your services to these clowns; the Scurfields will prove to be the authors of their own demise. Even if they lose the lawsuit, they expect to roll out of this debacle and eventually recoup their losses over the long term.

    Except they won't.

    The staff has already demonstrated that they are willing to act en masse against SSV, amidst rife discussion about unionizing.
    If this happens, Scurfields will sell but probably later than sooner.

    This situation could not have been handled any worse or so poorly. Scewered by social media and your own stupidity! Don't you love it?

  27. WRT Anon from Manitoba: I've worked at SSV and other places in the parks since 1989... so sorry but this behaviour by SSV management is not un-typical of the attitude of business community in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper in general.

    Also I do not believe that the fired senior staff condoned drinking or drugs. I know two of them in person, they are very responsible people.

  28. For the full rundown on the story, here's a website with a completely timeline of all the drama:


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