At this point in time, both sides have retained legal representation. The Colters are suing Clay for wrongful termination of Jill, claiming they violated the FMLA. At the same time, Clay is counter-suing the Colter brothers for defamation brought about by the boycott, with an emphasis on the content of the Facebook page.
Judging by the timeline and statements made on both sides, it is difficult to say who is telling the truth. The only thing we can be sure of is who is talking louder, and that is unequivocally the Colters. Their Facebook page is currently over 25,000 strong, including thousands of comments across hundreds of posts. Clay is trying to reach out via their ClayFamilyCares website and issued statements, but they are finding it difficult to compete with the wildfire spread of internet vitriol.
That may be part of the problem; the fact that Clay is trying to compete at all. Jon Colter has said that initially all they wanted was an apology but the dealership was unwilling to comply. Instead, the dealership has attempted to defend itself at every turn; as though any amount of PR could turn back the tides. The simple fact is, right or wrong, Clay has already lost in the court of public opinion; at some point, all that is left is to apologize and move on.
That is what can make this kind of social media campaign so dangerous to businesses; companies can lose a war that they are only peripherally aware they are fighting. Every day more people are seeing the Boycott Clay Nissan Facebook page. When they view the page, they are seeing the story as presented by the Colters. Clay can issue statements but each and every piece of information is filtered and posted by the Colters. The brothers also have complete control over comments on the page, meaning the Clay family cannot even defend themselves on the page that they are being attacked on. Is it fair? No. Are the Colters telling the truth? Evidence suggests they are, but in the end, it doesn’t matter.
In the world of social media, when a person fights a business, the roles are already cast. Despite any efforts to the contrary, despite who is truly right or wrong, the faceless corporation will be viewed as the villain. It is the innate characteristic of consumers to band together against a business who is being accused of a wrongdoing. We have all been there; when you hear a story of some big-box store screwing someone, how often do you even attempt to see things from the company’s point of view? It’s not often, and frankly, you shouldn’t have to try.
It is the onus of any business to maintain its own image in the eyes of the public.
This is what Clay Nissan, and the entire Clay family, needs to accept. They can go through the defamation lawsuit, and, as Jon Colter says, “They’re suing us, but it could be two to four years before the site is taken down, and by then, it will be at half a million.” The damage has been done. It was done the second that Facebook page went viral.
It’s unfortunate for Clay, but it provides an excellent example for other dealerships. Social media is no longer a supplementary part of your main marketing strategy. It deserves and demands constant investment to keep your business spotless in the eyes of your customers. When it comes to Clay and the Colters, we don’t know who is in the right and we’ll reiterate: it doesn’t matter!