Cooks Source Magazine and the Speed of a Social Media Firestorm


Roughly 48 hours ago Cooks Source Magazine was a fairly obscure print publication “for food lovers in Western New England.”

Today it’s Case Study #1 for how fast a social media firestorm can move. The case itself is bad enough for any number of reasons, an almost ridiculous example of (alleged, to keep the lawyers happy) copyright violation on a grand scale, and one that keeps getting grander as the day goes on and more people get involved. For a great overview of the issue, go read Edward Champion’s take: “The Cooks Source Scandal: How a Magazine Profits on Theft.” Time has a nice summary as well.

For those who don’t have time, the short version:

  • Writer discovers her apple pie recipe has appeared in an obscure print magazine without her permission;
  • Writer repeatedly attempts to contact the magazin’e editor to resolve the issue;
  • Magazine editor at last replies with an insanely condescending email that essentially claims all content on the Internet is public domain, and in fact they writer should pay *her* for the great editing work she did (it’s an instant ‘Net classic, a must read);
  • The rest of the Web piles on. And on. And on. Oh my. Oh wait…and on (Facebook).
  • In the process, writers and editors from other major cooking publications discover that all sorts of their content has apparently been used without permission by the magazine. Hundreds of people crowdsource evidence and post to various Facebook groups.
  • Two new memes launch: #buthonestlymonica Twitter hashtag, and the idea of blaming Cooks Source for all the ills of the world (from Windows Vista to Obama’s birth certificate to peeing on The Dude’s rug).

There’s more, and I admit it’s one enormously captivating train wreck to watch unfold live and online. The editor’s replies are a text book example of how *not* to respond to critics (and bloggers), and a simple and genuine mea culpa up front likely would have meant none of us would be reading about Cooks Source today (or ever).

However the key lesson to my eye is the speed at which this tiny scandal blew up into a big one, and how fast an obscure but otherwise functioning brand has been completely destroyed.

How Social Media Can Kill a Brand

From what I can tell, when the story first broke Cooks Source had less than a couple hundred Facebook fans. This morning that number was nearly 2,000. As I’m typing this a few hours later it’s broken past 4,000 with no signs of stopping. The brand even claimed that page was “hacked” and set up a new one a few hours ago, which also is gaining “fans” at a brisk rate (700+ so far). Hundreds of people are commenting on each post. Needless to say, these aren’t friendly posts nor are those making them anything close to the classic definition of “fans” and the situation is no better over on Twitter or across the blogosphere. From an SEO level, it’s fair to say they’re toast as well.

It’s a pile on the likes of which we haven’t seen since Nestle ripped on their fans on Facebook, or Southwest temporarily imploded on Twitter.

At this point it’s fair to ask whether Cooks Source is a dead brand and should be abandoned. Forgetting for the moment the clearly pretty serious legal issues that the publication seems to be facing, is it even remotely feasible that the brand itself has any chance of survival in the court of social media?

I’d say no. Time to re-roll even assuming they can dig themselves out of the massive legal hole they now seem to be in. The brand is like a flame to moths on Facebook and across the social media landscape: no matter where it goes, it will attract a mass of negative commenters, sarcastic replies, and angry posts.

48 hours ago this was a non-story. One LiveJournal post and a few key blog pickups later, and Cooks Source as a brand is effectively toast.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Wow, we finally have a fresh example to use when referring to social media sh*tstorms, the Gap logo fail was getting a bit old 😉
    On a more serious note, this is truly something to keep in mind when taking any potentially unethical action while striving to maintain a positive presence on social media channels.
    In my business I have so far stopped at least a couple of actions that, while totally legal, would’ve possibly perceived as “bad” by public audience, therefore exposing us to unnecessary problems. In this regard, could we say social media has the potential to make you a better manager/employee/person?