Grocery Store Rep. Confronts Tweeting Customer

Photo: Twitter War Makes Its Way from the Grocery Aisle to the Classroom

It all started with a simple tweet from a grocery store aisle last month.

"Every time I go to @PriceChopperNY I realize why they r not @wegmans . Tonight -bare produce areas & this sign 4 ex http://yfrog.com/2tfj9sj" tweeted @jjhoster, a disappointed Price Chopper customer in Syracuse, N.Y.

In his tweet, Jonathan Hoster, a senior admission officer at Syracuse University, had included a picture of Price Chopper's aisle 10 which houses baking supplies, cooking oils, kitchen gadgets, pie fillings, syrups and ? trash bags. It's mildly amusing, but a public relations specialist at Price Chopper didn't find it funny.

Price Chopper employee Ameerah Cetawayo sent a reply to Hoster from her personal Twitter account. And she didn't stop there -- she also e-mailed Hoster's employer from her official corporate e-mail address with accusations that the customer was "destructive and negative."

And this is where the firestorm erupted. For the next week, @PriceChopperNY received angry and disappointed @mentions from Twitter users everywhere for their poor use of social media.

"Wow, can't believe @PriceChopperNY would do this - attacks customer and notifies his employer over a negative tweet - http://bit.ly/b6LPT7," @Jdross, a New Media Director at Hamilton College, tweeted just hours after the incident took place. Holster told ABCNews.com he cannot comment on the incident.

Professor Anthony Rotolo, the main social media strategist at Syracuse University, is a strong advocate of "good social media practices" and a friend of Hoster. He was outraged by the social media faux pas.

"As a social media user and human being, I am horrified," Rotolo wrote in his blog, "Price Chopper Attacks Customer's Job Over Negative Tweet: pricechopperfail."

But instead of sending an angry e-mail to the company in defense of his friend, Rotolo took his concerns to cyberspace, posting this invitation on his blog: pricechopperfail.

"Although Price Chopper's actions cannot be excused, I believe they should be discussed as a learning opportunity," Rotolo posted. "I invite readers to comment and engage in an open dialogue about this issue ? and I invite the people at Price Chopper to explain themselves."

And Price Chopper took Rotolo up on his offer.

Taking it to the Classroom

In a classroom equipped with two projector screens, a Smartboard and a row of mounted flat screen TVs, four Price Chopper representatives took their places. Jerry Golub, President and Chief Operating Officer, and Heidi Reale, Director of Consumer Insights, led the discussion. Nearly 50 people gathered in the classroom and possibly hundreds more gathered online on Rotolo's "Live Tweet Chat" to tune into the event.

For an hour and a half the students, professors and the Price Chopper representatives discussed the details of the debacle.

"We would never condone what this one employee did," Reale said. "It goes against everything we stand for ... It was an associate who went rogue."

At the time of the incident, Reale said that Price Chopper's social media policy explicitly forbade the actions of the associate. For the immediate hours and days following the event, Reale did damage control.

"@jdross We had no knowledge of this situation & are looking into what may have transpired," Reale tweeted back to @jdross who was the first Twitter user to bring this situation to Price Chopper's attention. "Please see our comments here http://bit.ly/8ZCZPJ."

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