Um, Your Microphone is On: How a Raleigh Bakery Screwed the Pooch

Homemade Agave Sweetened Marshmallow Topped Cupcake

Nothing we say online is private. If you post something to your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Flickr page, the world can know about it. When you communicate via a social media portal, it is the equivalent of being at a crowded party with a microphone. Everyone has a microphone at this party, but not everyone is using theirs. So when someone approaches you at this party and whispers in your ear that you’ve done something to offend them, try not to call them the “C word” by shouting through your microphone. You see, the record will scratch and the party will come to a halt. People don’t like to be offended, and when you offend one person online, you offend A LOT of people online. Here’s what happened on Tuesday with a little Raleigh, NC bakery that has been a shining example of how a small business should NOT do social media.

Crumbs, Cakes, and other “C” Words

Crumb is a lil’ bakery with attitude. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, this Indy article seems to make the bakery feel like just the type of hip/edgy/tasty place we need in The Triangle. Heck, just the description of the cupcakes make them sound like some of the most awesome things ever: Chupacabra, anyone? (Stout cake with raspberry tequila filling and Patrón XO buttercream. WHAT?!?) But for as well as the proprietors of Crumb seem to understand making delectable goodies, they lack the kind of social media know-how to help their business.

I’m not going to go into all the nitty gritty details, because there are other articles that do it better than I can (see Jezebel or The Gloss), but the jist of it was that someone was offended by the store’s slogan, “So Good It Makes Fat People Cry.” Not a huge surprise there. The slogan was a joke, and not everyone has the same sense of humor, so the offended person, Diane, sent an email to the proprietor of Crumb, letting her know just how the slogan made her feel. No big deal, right? Thanks for the feedback, sorry to offend you, we are playful and hip and sometimes rubbing people the wrong way can garner attention and help us sell more tasty cupcakes, here’s a free cake, right?


Instead of taking Diane’s suggestion and making changes or apologizing in a understandable manner, Crumb’s co-owner, Carrie, did what any upset person would do: she tweeted awful things about Diane and incited a riot online. Including calling her that most hated of all cusses, the “C” word. Whoops. She tweeted from her personal account, @sparkoler, but what she didn’t realize was that as personal and private as it may seem, nothing you say online falls on deaf ears. From the store’s Twitter account, @JustCrumb:

Things we learned on Tuesday: Apparently we do not have private Twitter accounts anymore. Everything is business. Lesson learned.

Perhaps the bigger lesson to be learned here is that if you are a business owner or are somehow responsible for the image of your business, you had better keep your mouth shut if you don’t have anything good to say. It disappoints me enough to see status updates crammed with boohoo’s about people not wanting to be at work, or hating their jobs or talking smack about the people who hired them, and it especially irks me to encounter those who lambast the customers who purchase their products or services. The lesson here is also that social media can get you in a lot of trouble if you aren’t careful. Especially for young businesses. BP is going to get run through the gauntlet until heaven heats up, but they are still profitable because they are a gazillion dollar brand. But if you’re just selling cupcakes down my street, you might want to grin and bear it when people have something to say about you.  

– Jeremy S. Griffin


  • Devin DiMattia
    Posted at 15:19h, 04 June

    Reminds me of an incident earlier this year, when the owner of Jimmy John’s decided to go on an anti-Obama rant on the company’s blog. It was quickly removed from their site about a day later. Bottom line is if you run a company, you need to realize that from now on, you’re not just speaking for yourself. You’re speaking for your company, whether you want to or not.

  • Catherine Mears
    Posted at 15:56h, 04 June

    Your ideal response above for Crumb was right on. You can apologize for any unintentional hurt feelings without compromising you. “We didn’t set out to upset anyone, but we are sorry that we hurt your feelings.” Easy.I am mildly curious what the email from “Diane” said. I know that it’s been reported that it was cool, calm and collected, but how many of us are actually capable of writing cool, calm and collected emails when we’ve had our feelings hurt? Not that her email excuses what Crumb said via Twitter, but it might add an interesting angle to the story.Good post!

  • 1918
    Posted at 18:40h, 04 June

    This isn’t the first time the Crumb folks have stepped over the line. I agree that they are edgy and caustic so you either embrace that or you won’t.

    Not everyone plays by the same social media rules. Maybe they really don’t want Diane as a customer the same way Guess Jeans doesn’t want fat girls wearing their jeans.

    It’s just my opinion but I think having a social media strategy that is basically “f*** you” is just as valid as the one you suggest. It may not be the one that gets them the most customers, but they’ll be sure that the customers they do have are loyal.

    There isn’t a DJ in America who wouldn’t want to have a voracious fan base like Howard Stern’s – yet Stern never went out of his way to smooth ruffled feathers.

  • Nathania Johnson
    Posted at 18:59h, 04 June

    Well, I think the problem with being caustic is that Crumb is selling cupcakes. Locally. Stern’s advantage is that he can get a national audience. His market is bigger and talk radio is known for its shock jocks.

    Cupcakes are known for being cute and friendly. If you want to be edgy, fine, but you better have the cupcake to back it up and Crumb doesn’t. These aren’t world class cupcakes.

    Plus, if you want to be edgy, never apologize. Crumb isn’t edgy. They’re angry and bitter and pissed at anyone who wants them to be otherwise.

  • Rob Laughter
    Posted at 19:00h, 04 June

    As much as I disagree with Crumb’s approach to social media, I’ve got to say that it’s niche marketing at its finest.

    I think it was Godin who said something along the lines of “The more remarkable your product or service, the more people will complain.” I take that as “If you’re doing it right, you’re going to piss people off.”

    Crumb knows their audience. They market to that audience. They can’t afford to market to the entire world, so finding those edgy folks who will resonate with their marketing message is not only healthy, but it actually turns off the folks that they aren’t trying to attract.

    To me, a crucial impact that effective marketing has on your business is to repel those consumers who are not your ideal customer. Ferriss (and scores of others) talks a lot about the 80/20 rule: 80% of our business comes from just 20% of our customers. The secret to success is to attract more of that 20% and cut out the rest.

    I’m in the 80%. I won’t be stopping in on the grounds that I don’t appreciate the way I see them treating folks. But the 20% who DO stop in will be back time and time again.

    Well-done, Crumb. Have your cake and eat it, too.

  • Tucker
    Posted at 19:07h, 04 June

    I have to agree and disagree with Phil on this. I see your point when it comes to the “catchy” or “edgy” tagline. Sure they aren’t going after everyone and yes they will offend people but at $8 per cupcake I am sure they can live with that 🙂

    As for calling a customer a “fat c*nt” that is neither edgy or catchy it’s just them being a**holes. Who cares if you had a bad day? Who cares if you are stressed (because this is stress relieving??)? They are a business, we are the customers. Without us they fail. They need to understand that regardless of their brand ambitions. While Howard Stern does say F the world on a daily basis that is his radio personality. These people showed their true colors which IMO makes them the fat c*nts in this situation.

  • Catherine Mears
    Posted at 19:16h, 04 June

    Just a clarification to my original post – I think that Crumb could have apologized that they inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, but they didn’t have to apologize for the slogan. They can have whatever slogan they want, and, to Phil’s and Rob’s point, slogans or other marketing that aren’t expected can reap benefits. Although, they are getting ALL kinds of free publicity off of this episode. Maybe that was part of their master plan all along?

  • Rab
    Posted at 19:28h, 04 June

    Phil you and I think a like.

  • Rab
    Posted at 19:30h, 04 June

    I think Crumb offer the best cupcakes and muffins I’ve had in the triangle at an independent bakery. I am happy to take suggestions of alternatives that are better.

  • Rob Laughter
    Posted at 19:38h, 04 June

    I thought about DMing them and tracking their sales to see if they could show an increase in business 😉

    I’ve started arguments online which (inadvertently) boosted my visibility and led to new clients. Not a sustainable tactic, but it definitely gave me a short term bump in new contracts.

  • conky
    Posted at 19:38h, 04 June

    “Things we learned on Tuesday: Apparently we do not have private Twitter accounts anymore. Everything is business. Lesson learned.”

    That is one of the sorriest, lamest, most self-pitying responses to bad press I’ve ever read. If you’re going to be edgy, go for it. If you’re going to apologize, that’s also a fine direction to take. This is neither. This is some “woe is me,” emo middle school junk.

  • Brian McDonald
    Posted at 19:42h, 04 June

    I agree that they have the right to free speech and have their own brand identity, slogan and all. I think why people are venting against them is that they were very crude to someone that asked them to consider what they are communicating outward as part of their brand message. Debate and disagreement is part of the process. Insult and injury is just low class. Blaming that insult on having a bad day or stress of small business ownership is being weak and a cop out. Yes you can have a F You strategy as Phil suggests but don’t expect anyone to stand up and applaud that effort. We’re all humans and have to share our piece of the rock.

  • Christine
    Posted at 19:54h, 04 June

    Nathania, part of the marketing in Crumb is that they dismiss the idea that cupcakes are “cute and friendly.” Theirs are grown up. With concoctions like Chupacabra, IED, and Miso Horny, these are not for the primary school set. Caustic, until now, had been working for them.

  • janetkennedy
    Posted at 20:43h, 04 June

    Sorry, Phi, I disagree – A Bakery is not a DJ (whose job it is to incite controversy for ratings). The loss of common courtesy and good manners is a travesty in this country. If you want a trash mouth on your “private” Twitter stream – that is your prerogative. If you want to promote a business, then show your smarts through interesting, insightful, “edgy” things to say or point out. Crude is never appropriate.

    That said- why didn’t they ever talk about baking? I can’t cook for diddly and would have appreciated some interesting local cooking tips.

  • Rab
    Posted at 20:44h, 04 June

    I think this series of events illustrates the reason we are having the huge online debate about Facebook privacy and why there are 3+ front page national magazine features on the subject this month, forcing their CEO, characterized as brash and immature by some, to respond publicly. This small local business owner had a personal micro-blog account and had an expectation of privacy, whether that is true or not, perception and reality diverge. This doesn’t speak to the actions but you have to understand the behavior of the current and upcoming generation of web users and their expectations and perceptions of online identity – whether business owner or patron. Danah Boyd spoke about the topic of Online Identity & Privacy during keynotes at this spring’s WWW2010 and SXSWi conferences. Privacy and Identity is top of mind for many now, it seems. Yet, many treat twitter as a pocket community – with less than 100-200 followers and keep it closed / private. In this particular case, the action of the community member was deemed outside of the group mores and they were promptly outed – that action perhaps breaking the Twitter TOS – and privacy expectations of that group member. This does not condone the insult, mind you. What does it all mean? Yeah, I don’t know either. But it makes you think. Danah said that people don’t have explicit security but expect privacy and it is reasonable to have it through context and trust. Whose trust was violated? It’s convenient to proclaim that everything on the internet is public domain but that is not true. Now, have you gone and seen the absolute vitriol being spewed by the people in the live-journal comments and Crumb’s blog? It will give you pause. If I use the same measuring stick implied by many – that you should not use one of the 7 dirty words to describe someone – we should all vote many of them (and their businesses / livelihoods) off the island of society also. Food for thought.

  • Jason Curtis
    Posted at 20:56h, 04 June

    Like Obama, the cop, and the professor, everyone needs to sit down, enjoy the breeze, and discuss the issue like adults. I think the true travesty here is that what was a private exchange was taken public by the owners of the bakery. The modes of communication don’t really make a difference, it’s the immediate escalation and publication of the harmless comment.

    In this case, I’m just happy that Diane doesn’t have diabetes and that Crumb’s slogan is not “Cupcakes That Make Diabetics Die”.

  • Rab
    Posted at 21:01h, 04 June

    Well said Brian. First one to get a video interview with Carrie Nickerson I think would do everyone a great bit of good.

  • Nathania
    Posted at 01:25h, 05 June

    Christine, I agree and that’s why I said if they’re going to do that then they shouldn’t apologize at all. Plus, they really need to nail the branding down, b/c when I visited them at shotbox with my kids, I had no idea that they would only have adult cupcakes.

    Rab – their cupcakes are above average for the area, but the area sucks for cupcakes. Though, I still haven’t been to any chapel hill bakeries.

  • Matt Kozlowski
    Posted at 03:24h, 05 June

    I don’t see anything as niche as a $8 per cupcake shop surviving this nightmare. The whole thing seems like a fad anyway and I think this bad press will kill the good word of mouth that a place like this needs. I don’t think the 20% will be enough to keep them going, despite the Long Tail theory.

  • Akira Morita
    Posted at 04:24h, 05 June

    Good summation, and thread/comments all. I personally thought the Crumb branding was fine, they could’ve done really well for themselves if it weren’t for how they tried to “manage” this.

    See, the biggest irony/mistake is that they ended up apologizing for the slogan, not their tweets/personal insult. That’s a double-whammy for them; now they can’t be edgy, and some people have already-formed notion of them as fallen-over-the-edge potty mouths.

    It’s a folly to think that you can control people’s reactions. It’s this misconception, in my opinion, that caused the Crumb folks to misstep on their apology – it sounds manipulative and designed to get sympathy, and that’s the reason their strategy will not work.

  • Love
    Posted at 05:52h, 05 June

    However, originally the twitter/justcrumb listed their personal tweets in the info for the business tweet. Thus, giving the impression that it was an offshoot of the business twitter.

  • Griffin
    Posted at 18:58h, 07 June

    Thanks for the insightful comments, everyone. My hope is that despite who is happy or mad or indifferent about all of this that people realize the influence that your words have online. If you spit venom, though, you might get some in your own ear, too.

  • Rab
    Posted at 16:36h, 08 June

    Good point and it’s difficult to keep the two separate regardless.

  • MantisMK
    Posted at 19:47h, 12 June

    Wow. That’s a big NO-NO. Despite any ill feelings of customers, you never flame any customer or potential customer. I never understood people using public outlets like Facebook and Twitter to air private issues between someone else… Seems like people just want attention. Negative attention to some is enough I guess.I’m sharing this article with everyone at

  • yzsc
    Posted at 06:23h, 14 June


  • greg_cryns
    Posted at 14:05h, 22 July

    Well, it seems that unless you say something provocative, then no one says anything about you. Which is worse?

    I think the power of social networking is overblown.

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