Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Lo Pub: how small businesses can use Facebook in crisis management

A widely-reported brawl broke out on a downtown Winnipeg street outside The Lo Pub late Monday night. At least one of the participants reportedly had been in the bar earlier in the evening, but the altercation itself took place outside The Lo Pub's property.

Winnipeg media on Tuesday were all over the story, each time identifying the brawl with The Lo Pub.

For any of my readers unfamiliar with Winnipeg, stories of senseless violence and alcohol-fuelled acts of idiocy in our downtown are, unfortunately, not that unusual. So when people hear “stabbing,” “downtown,” and “The Lo Pub” together in a story, there's an assumed association between the three. The Lo Pub, the unaware reader might assume, must be another one of those violent places you’re not smart to choose if you’re just looking for good music without the thrill of danger.

The thing is, from what I’m told by my students and others who've been in recent years, it's not. I'm told The Lo Pub is a friendly, safe, comfortable place where young musicians are welcome to find an audience.

The Lo Pub's owner Jack Jonasson may not be a PR guy, but he has the right instincts when it comes to dealing with a potentially business-threatening situation like this one. Through his interviews with the local media he communicated key messages including the fact that the brawl didn't happen at The Lo Pub, that he hasn't seen a violent incident like this in the entire time he has owned it, and that he and his establishment don't tolerate violence. He also makes it clear that, despite all that, he will do whatever he can to prevent something similar from happening again.

So Jonasson deserves a tip of the hat for speaking to local media and getting his messages out there, rather than letting the headlines tell his story. But he didn’t stop there; yesterday, he backed up his messages in the media with a letter to the members of The Lo Pub’s Facebook group (at this writing, more than 1600 people), in which he reiterated his key messages and underscored his personal position against violence.

Here’s the message:

"Hey Folks,

As I'm sure most of you have heard, there was an incident outside the bar and off the property yesterday that culminated in 20 people fighting and 4 people being taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. I thought it prudent to start a dialogue with you all about it so that you can hear the facts from my mouth instead of some of the factually inaccurate reporting that has occurred today.

These people were patrons of the bar earlier in the night, but were not regulars or people that any of us have ever seen here before. They were here for a performance for an out of town hip hop act that was performing as a part of Mass Appeal Mondays, which is a weekly event that has been occurring here since December without incident.

Let me be clear that this unfortunate and horrible incident is unrelated to Mass Appeal, the promoters or performers of the evening. This was (from what I understand) a beef between two individuals that escalated to two groups of friends fighting OFF THE PROPERTY - an isolated incident. There was no indication inside the bar that anything was amiss - In fact, up until 3 minutes before the fight started, everything inside the bar was shaping up to be a great night - the atmosphere was light, people were having fun, and the music was great.

To say that what happened has deeply affected me would be a gross understatement. I'm not a violent person, and don't understand what brings people to the place where these kinds of actions are their only recourse for solving conflict. Why can't we talk about our problems and come up with a solution instead of resorting to violence?

For the two and a half years that I've been running this place, I've worked long and difficult hours helping to develop our downtown and this place into a safe, comfortable and inviting community for everyone that walks in the door, and I think we've done a great job. We've had two and a half years with no major problems, all while helping to support the music and arts community in Winnipeg in a way that few others are or can.

Unfortunately, for the time being we will be stopping Mass Appeal Mondays. As well, we will be assessing how we operate to ensure that this kind of incident or anything remotely close to it will never happen again.

I implore you all not to let the actions of a few troubled individuals change your perceptions of what we do here. We are committed to seeing the blood, sweat, love and tears that we've poured into this place through. This place has developed into a community, and I consider all of you my family, so when something like this occurs, it hurts.

This Thursday at 4:30, we're inviting all of you down here to show your support for this place. Come have a drink. Enjoy some of the delicious vegetarian and vegan food we have on our new menu. Meet with friends. Create some memories. Show those who fight violence with violence that there is a better way.

Jack Jonasson, Publican

Jonasson knows that he can speak directly to many of the people who support his and his employees’ livelihoods through his Facebook group. While interviews given to mainstream media may or may not reach the people who actually frequent The Lo Pub, Facebook offers a direct link to 1600 people who have volunteered to receive information from him.

Are they an interested audience? Yes.
Are they an easy-to-reach audience? Thanks to Facebook, yes.
Are they an audience that matters to his business? Absolutely.

If you look at the Wall for The Lo Pub's Facebook group, you’ll see comment after comment praising Jonasson for what he’s done with the establishment, and showing continued support for it despite the events of Monday night. In an email today, Jonasson told me he has received more than 200 emails of support from his community of customers since the incident.

I’ll be interested to hear how many people come to The Lo Pub on Thursday to show their support and their stance against violence; I have a feeling it’ll be a great turnout.

1 comment:

  1. I was going to go for a pint on Thursday but lost track of time in an edit suite. I assume the bar was packed, if the comments left by supporters on were any indication. Lo Pub is a cozy little place and I think the rowdiest I've ever seen it get was the night my friend's mom hopped on stage with the band and a tambourine!