How a wig company destroyed their online reputation with one sentence

Alison Ziebel is a mother of two toddlers. Her oldest, Owen, is a four year old who suffers from seizures that are a result of brain damage when he was born. He is going through the process now of finding out if he is a good candidate for surgery to remove part of his brain and correct the problem. As if that isn’t enough, Alison had a seizure herself a a few months ago and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She started radiation to prevent the tumor from growing this week. Because of the dramatic details of her situation, her inspirational strength, and how candid she can be, she has amassed quite a following of supporters on her blog (friends and family and their friends and family and even strangers who saw a spot about her situation on the Milwaukee news).

Since she will lose her hair soon, she recently went to shop for wigs and was very hesitant and emotional about the whole thing. She tried out Sharon’s Wig Salon in Brookfield, WI.

According to Alison’s blog, there, the sales people were short with her about answering questions. Alison says they refused to let her look at a brochure because young people like Alison go on the Internet and order the wigs themselves. Then Alison states that after a bit of a confrontation about the issue, as Alison was leaving a sales person yelled after her, “I hope you lose all of your hair.” According to Alison, the owner, standing nearby, laughed. Here is Alison’s daily blog post about it. Today, Sharon’s Wig Salon’s online reputation is destroyed. Check out her Yelp, Citysearch, and Yahoo. Just do a search for “Alison Ziebell” on Twitter, and you’ll see the millions of shares about this story. So many people have shared the post online that even one of the Greenbay Packers, Tom Crabtree, tweeted it. [Correction, Tom Crabtree is a former Green Bay Packer, and is currently on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.]

This got us thinking—while we know that your business does not treat people this way (because, honestly, who does?), perhaps we could use this as a reminder of a few online reputation tips.

1. Offer good customer service. I read an article years ago about branding, and how an expert consulting with a company handed them a broom and told them to sweep their floors as a first essential step. The lesson–don’t overlook the basics. Be nice to people. Not only for the fact that it is just a good way to be in the world, but also because you never know of the person you are insulting knows a reporter or has a large, sympathetic audience online. If Sharon said, “who is going to stop me?” Alison would have said, “Me and my bottomless pit of friends and supporters who are desperately looking for a way to help me out.”

2. Embrace your online presence. Ole’ Sharon appears to be trying to pretend the Interwebs doesn’t exist. In Alison’s words, Guess what Sharon? The Internet can be used for more than just ordering things. And the Internet matters whether your clientele is generally old or not. Alison went to her radiation treatment today (the day after posting her blog), and everyone there knew about it and was talking about it. I don’t think that cancer center will be recommending Sharon’s Wig Salon anytime soon. Every business would be best served by finding themselves on Google, Yelp, the Yellow Pages, Dex, etc., and claiming their profile. Then you can more easily monitor what people are saying when they say it about you. Establish a Facebook page and Twitter presence where you can drive the conversation. And you can also have the opportunity to respond and manage, which brings us to our next point.

3. Know how to respond, and do it swiftly.
Most of these sites give businesses who have claimed their profile a place to respond to reviews. When you see someone complaining about you online, respond in the most sympathetic and proactive way possible (and explain the situation and apologize if necessary). In this aspect, Sharon’s case is pretty bleak because the situation was such an extreme display of inhumanity. If we were to advise Sharon, we’d ask her to fire that employee and offer Alison a personal apology and a free wig. Then she should write an open letter of apology to post on her website. In most cases of bad reviews, the business’s side is reasonable or easily forgivable. We recently had a customer complain about a poor customer experience on one of our client’s Facebook pages in the Reviews section. The customer had entered a store, had not been greeted swiftly enough, and so he left and went straight to Facebook to complain and state he would never do business with our client. Within 10 minutes, we consulted the owner, replied publicly that the person could call to get the owner’s personal phone number and explain the situation. That complaint resulted in a $10,000 order. But more importantly, it showed publicly that our client cares enough about each individual that the owner is willing to listen to even the smallest of complaints directly.

4. Find opportunities to step into big stories. And now to the good news. Today, just one day after posting the horrible story, Alison’s blog has over 297,000 views [Update: As of the following Monday (3 days later), her blog had 775,000 views]. Through online sharing, a wig company in Madison found out about the whole ugly situation.  They have offered to donate a real and synthetic wig (valued at over $1,200). I will post more details about this company when they are available, but you can bet that they will walk away from this with tons of 5 star reviews. [Update: This smart and generous company is Whitney Hair and Wellness.] An art and gift shop called The Waxwing in Shorewood, WI, near where Alison lives, is donating 10 percent of their proceeds from an opening event tonight toward Alison’s wig fund. They posted this in the comments on her blog and Alison’s friends are already starting to share it. If you have an opportunity to connect to a big news story and be generous, your generosity will certainly be a win-win.

If you don’t have time to do all of this yourself, consider hiring an outside company (like us). We can act as part of your team, and we know how to take control of and manage your online reputation. In the case of Sharon’s Wig Salon, however—they might be out of luck. A person who wishes hair loss on a person with a brain tumor is not the kind of person we want to work with.

Contact us to find out how we can help you take control of your online reputation.


  1. Susie
    February 7, 2014

    Thank you for posting. Quick correction: Tom Crabtree is actually a former Green Bay Packer (he’s now on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), but he is wildly popular on Twitter regardless, so that’s amazing he got a hold of this.

  2. February 7, 2014

    Thanks for the props on doing good business! I own The Waxwing and stepped in because a benefit to owning a shop is that sometimes it affords me the opportunity to give more than I would be able to as an individual. As a new mom and local business owner, Alison’s story really got to me…I’m happy to say that through a combination of sales and donations from artists and patrons alike (one artist even donated her sales check from January!) we were able to raise $208 for Alison. We’ll be continuing to donate 10% of all sales from our Saturday and Sunday business and are amazed at the support the community is stepping up and showing. Doing a whole lot of good outweighs the bad! XO-Steph & all the amazing women and artists at The Waxwing

  3. February 7, 2014

    This article was forwarded to me as I am the owner of the wig salon in Madison. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I am honored Alison will let me right this wrong.

  4. Helen
    February 8, 2014

    I don’t think I’ve ever hoped that a story would go “viral” as much as I hope this one does. If Sharon’s Wig Salon in Brookfield, WI has treated just one other person like it did this brave woman, they deserve to go out of business. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Bless The Waxwing in Shorewood WI and the Madison company donating a wig for Alison!

  5. Mairin r
    February 8, 2014

    I’d just like to point out that I am from Wisconsin but currently live in Sinapore and I ahve heard this story- which means it has literally traveled to the other side of the world via social media! That should really say something to all business owners.

  6. Jeffrey Herr
    February 8, 2014

    Umm… Just because someone claims this happened, a firestorm comes crashing down on them?

  7. Maria
    February 8, 2014

    Owen is 5 😉

  8. Chris Tillman
    February 8, 2014

    Yay to you and a heartfelt ” you go girl” , yay, to Alison