This article was updated on August 2nd
It has been a difficult week for Byron Burger. The restaurant chain has been dividing social media ever since it was discovered that it had turned dozens of members of staff over to immigration officials. Byron allegedly set up a fake training session to lure workers into a government raid that resulted in over 35 of them being deported.
The brand’s sketchy ethics caused uproar on social media, with many calling for a boycott, while others congratulated the brand for helping to uphold the law. But what does it all really mean for Byron? Inconsequential tweetstorm or PR disaster? Visibrain analysed social data around the crisis to try and determine the extent of the damage done to the brand’s reputation.
A crisis that took weeks to emerge
The original incident behind Byron’s scandal actually took place on July 4th, but took much longer to reach the press. The first news outlet to write a story about what happened to Byron staff was London-based Spanish language newspaper El Iberico, who published an article on July 22nd:
The story was shared hundreds of times on Twitter, and there were over 1,000 tweets about Byron that day. However, the movement quickly petered out, perhaps due to the fact that the original article was in Spanish, making it relatively inaccessible to many.
The crisis picked up again on Wednesday last week after the news reached more influential Twitter users. Volumes took off at around 1 pm, as journalists such as Abi Wilkinson starting tweeting about the affair:
Volumes were also boosted when the tweet below from @babefeatures was retweeted by comedian Rufus Hound, who has over 1 million followers:
Conversation around the topic continued to grow over the course of the day, and by late afternoon, the #boycottbyron hashtag was trending. 24 hours later, there had been 16,945 mentions of the Byron Burgers brand online, and #boycottbyron had been used in 8,275 tweets.
Byron divides social media
The tweets were coming in thick and fast as the brand’s fans and critics gave their opinions on how the workers had been treated. An overview of the top expressions used in tweets about Byron Burgers tells us that general opinion of the brand was far from positive:
“Despicable”, “craven”, “snide”, “disgraceful” and “morally repugnant” all stand out in the word cloud above.
The brand did get some support for its actions on Twitter, with some individuals praising the company for helping to uphold immigration laws:
So a company cooperated with the immigration authorities. Not sure I see the problem #BoycottByron— Rupert Myers (@RupertMyers) July 27, 2016
It was the employees that were working illegally so I fully support Byron Burger. Well done and I look forward to returning #BoycottByron— Craig Thomas (@CraigEThomas) July 28, 2016
Boycott #byronburgers? No way! Well done Byron Burger. I can't believe a boycott has been suggested for having illegal workers arrested— Gary (@GazGuildford) July 28, 2016
However, the brand’s defenders weren’t the ones getting the most engagement and support on their posts. All of the top tweets are highly critical of the brand:
The first tweet supporting Byron appears in 15th place.
As well as the activity on social media, within 24 hours of the crisis breaking, news of Byron’s moral quandary had been widely covered by the press, appearing in the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sun and The Daily Mirror, as well as on the BBC news site and Buzzfeed.
A lacklustre response that fuelled the crisis
For the first 24 hours of the crisis, the brand remained steadfastly silent, in spite of their Twitter handle having been mentioned over 6,000 times.
The first official statement was finally issued on Twitter at 12.57 pm on Thursday afternoon, which has since been deleted. The brand then tweeted another statement on Monday:
Here's a statement from us regarding the recent Home Office investigation. pic.twitter.com/QSNO1tgvk1— Byron (@byronhamburgers) August 1, 2016
While it did answer a few of the questions that had been raised on social media, such as whether or not the brand was actually aware that it had hired illegal immigrants, the statement didn’t cover the main issue of the alleged entrapment of its staff.
More trouble for Byron as tweets turn into protests
The brand’s woes got even worse this week, after support groups successfully used social media to organise a protest outside of one of its restaurants:
The link itself has been shared thousands of times on social media, and hundreds of people tweeted about the protest to encourage others to participate:
There is a demo outside the Byron Burgers outlet in Holborn at 6.30pm on Monday 1st August #boycottbyron— Abi Wilkinson (@AbiWilks) July 27, 2016
On Friday, packets of live insects were released into two different Byron restaurants. On Monday evening, hundreds of people descended on the brand’s High Holburn branch to protest, forcing it to close.
The events generated yet more unwanted publicity for Byron Burger: over 10,000 additional tweets have been posted about the brand since Monday.
Growing support for Byron this week
In spite of the protests, there has been a change of tone in conversations about Byron Burgers since Monday. There has been an increasing amount of support for the brand on Twitter - all of the most-retweeted tweets sent since Monday are pro-Byron:
How about the left complain about the illegal immigrants who were breaking the law, the actual criminals https://t.co/jZNfDAsN08— David Jones (@DavidJo52951945) August 1, 2016
Everyone should eat at Byron Burgers at the nearest opportunity. Show your support. #holborn— Shteve (@SteveBlogs1) August 1, 2016
The nature of press coverage around Byron’s predicament has also changed. While last week, the most-shared articles on social media were more neutral or in favor of staff, since Monday the most popular news stories are highly critical of the #boycottbyron movement:
While there have been rumours about the possibility of additional protests taking place this week, this newfound support on social media could be a sign that Byron Burger’s PR nightmare is coming to an end.
Whether you agree with their actions or not, Byron’s case is a typical example of how a brand’s behaviour can be called out on social media, with devastating consequences. Byron has suffered from considerable disruptions to its day-to-day business as well as all of the negative publicity.
But it’s also a good example of where the public didn’t necessarily have the full picture before jumping in to comment. While it was clear that Byron could have handled the raid better, Twitter’s damning reaction came before all the facts had been released.
Byron failed to react quickly enough, giving rumours and negative sentiment time to spread.
As with many cases like this, it’s also a question of pubic perception of the brand. Whether they were right or wrong, Byron’s failure to provide a humane response to the main issue - the accusations of entrapment of their staff in the fake “training” sessions - has undoubtedly left a blot on their image.
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