In response to a query about the mall's lifts, which over the weekend had "malfunctioned and plunged", Paradigm Mall's Facebook page manager said the management was "still looking into it".
The cheerful response to what seemed to be a serious situation appeared to exasperate Freddie Toh, a Facebook user who commented "Again looking..."
The comment seemed to be the final straw for the Facebook page manager who retorted, "Cannot snap fingers and make changes. You can? Then we want to hire you!!"
After that, things got more strange, with the mall posting responses such as:
Hi Freddie, sure! You know MAGIC wor! However expensive also we can afford!! Then we no longer have to answer "looking into it". Come for an interview NOW (Since you know magic you can appear now right). This is awesome, Paradigm Mall has now Freddie Toh with INSTANT solutions to EVERYTHING! PERFECT MALL now, people! Let's give Freddie Toh a big big hand!!!!
At this point the Malaysian public banded together, siding with Toh against the mall. The still-growing comment thread went viral on Facebook with 602 comments, ranging from indignation over the mall's lack of professionalism to a formal job application for the post of resident magician.
Malaysians have also set up a false Paradigm Mall blog and twitter page. A screenshot of the mall's response (embedded in this article) made the rounds on Facebook and forums including the popular Low Yat Forum.
Ironically, the situation has driven the mall's fan count through the roof, with more than 10,000 fans on its page (which stood around 9,000 just this morning), more than 8,000 of whom are, at the time of publication, "talking about" the mall.
Then, 22 hours ago, the administrator posted an explanation of sorts, three times in a row:
Peeps, go read other posts! (That's how the "magic" came about lah, no insult/sarcasm/pun intended). Anyway, yes all comments and feedbacks have been compiled from day one from each and every one of you. (Thank you again everyone) The post-mortem meeting was held and all the rectification started from day 1 (still going on). eg. The slope at Level LG no longer slippery, there's more dustbins, etc..
It was only after this, yesterday, that the mall finally issued a formal apology:
I am Carrie Kon, the Centre Manager for Paradigm Mall and on behalf of the mall, we are truly sorry for the unpleasant thread which spurred from Yuen Hsiang’s concern on the elevators. We are here to serve the community and we treasure all feedbacks received. We ask for your understanding as we settle this matter internally and with regards to the elevators, our technicians are currently working to ensure their smooth operation once again. We humbly extend our sincere apologies to all who have felt offended.
Unfortunately for the mall, this apology seemed insufficient, and posts ridiculing the mall's social-media management have continued.
PR agency Millennium Associates, which manages corporate communications for the mall's developer, WCT Berhad, admitted to being aware of the situation but being unable to either comment or act on it. "We're really only in charge of WCT's corporate communication and not the mall's social media activities," said a representative.
Paradigm Mall and WCT Berhad did not respond to an invitation to comment. [Editor's note: See update below.]
How can situations like this be avoided?
The case against leaving social-media management in the hands of the untrained could not be made clearer, commented Napoleon Biggs, Fleishman Hilliard's senior vice-president and head of digital integration for Asia-Pacific. "This is pretty common especially when retail companies use their in-house marketing staff to handle social media and think they can pull off a PR role."
"As long as social media strategists are not treated as company spokespersons, public disasters such as this will always be a step away," agreed Sanjana Chappali, digital marketing director for Lewis PR. "There is rigorous training that spokespersons undergo to ensure that the voice they speak in is in tandem with the corporate voice. It is about time the same importance is accorded to social media strategists as well."
What should be done?
The mall's response so far has been insufficient and far too late, observed Chappali. "It would have been far more appropriate if a senior member of the company’s communications department had stepped up to identify herself, apologized and then detailed steps taken to address the initial complaint."
Paradigm Mall is not the first, nor will it be the last company targeted on Facebook, she added. "The difference lies really in their responses to the situation."
Update: WCT issued a statement late Thursday, after this story was published, which asserted that the comments were made with "no malice" and that the mall is "deeply appreciative of the outpouring of support and concern we have received so far". The statement indicated that the team member involved has been reassigned to another task and that the company "will review and further improve the customer care training programme and social media etiquette" to avoid any recurrence.