Gym brand LA Fitness has suffered a torrid night in the social media-verse after adverse publicity surrounding unwanted membership contracts.
The group’s troubles began when a couple complained of being locked into a two year gym membership despite becoming pregnant, moving home and the husband being made redundant.
Refusing to back down however the gym pointed to their small print which stated that their policy was only to temporarily freeze contracts for pregnancies, with early contract termination only possible following a move more than 20 miles away or with a redundancy letter clearly stating that the member had been made redundant.
Commenting on the case Jonathan Hemus of Insignia Communications said: "When LA Fitness threatened to enforce its contract with a heavily pregnant woman who had fallen on hard times, it may have had the letter of the law on its side. But once the story became public, it was found guilty in the court of public opinion. LA Fitness is just the latest business to find out that protecting reputation means doing the right thing in the eyes of the outside world, not simply complying with regulations or the law.
The need to act in a way that seems right to external stakeholders is intensified these days due to the power of social media. Not so long ago, businesses could keep customer complaints under wraps and even a negative press report could be viewed as tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. Today, because of Twitter, Tripadvisor, Google and the like, perceived misbehaviour or under-performance by organisations is discussed publicly and forever logged online. And – as in the case of LA Fitness – campaigns can grow and exert influence much more quickly and powerfully than ever before.
The result of this new environment is that businesses need to act appropriately and ethically as a matter of course, and respond quickly and empathetically when they make a mistake. In this fast-paced and transparent world, the key for businesses is to control the crisis rather than letting the crisis control them. LA Fitness was slow to adopt this approach and as a consequence suffered more reputational damage than if it had done the right thing in the first place.
On their Twitter feed LA Fitness have now apologised for the incident, tweeting: “The communication breakdown has been most regrettable and we apologise for any distress this has caused." Adding: "At 3pm this afternoon we wrote to the couple informing them we had waived all outstanding fees.”