How a Fan Post on Panera's Facebook Page Got Half a Million Likes

Small act of customer service reaps huge rewards

Given all the rubbernecking at ChapStick-style social-media fails, and all the hijacking of corporate crowdsourcing efforts, it's tempting to see the Internet as a sea of sharks always out for brand blood. But the truth is, millions of people on Facebook are hungry for a feel-good story, and ready to praise any brand that delivers it—magnifying even the smallest, most random act of kindness into something that's celebrated across the web.
     Case in point: Panera. Last week, a young man in Wilton, N.H., named Brandon Cook posted this heartwarming story on his Facebook wall about the customer service at a Panera in Nashua:
     "My grandmother is passing soon with cancer. I visited her the other day and she was telling me about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted like 'shit' she went on about how she really would like some clam chowder from Panera. Unfortunately Panera only sells clam chowder on friday. I called the manager Sue and told them the situation. I wasn't looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder. Without hesitation she said absolutely she would make her some clam chowder. When i went to pick up it up they wound up giving me a box of cookies as well. Its not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot. I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera just for making my grandmother happy. Thank you so much!"
     Brandon's mother Gail loved her son's post so much, she reposted it (slightly edited) on Panera's Facebook wall. It soon blew up. Since last Wednesday, it's gotten a staggering 500,000 likes and 22,000 comments. And Panera's wall has been deluged with other people thanking the brand for the actions of one store manager.

     Nashua Patch caught up with the Cook family on Monday. "As long as it's out there, I just wanted to make sure people get the story straight. It's no hoax," says Gail Cook. "I think it's so touching to other people because they are relating to the situation. People need good news. But I also think there's something about the story, across the generations, that's touching—a lot of kids my son's age don't have that, and a lot of people think kids that age are just punks."
     The Panera manager, Suzanne Fortier, isn't quoted in the piece, but a fellow manager says: "Suzanne has been saying that she knows any one of us would have done the same thing; she just happened to be the one to answer the phone."
     Brandon, meanwhile, is taken aback by the whole turn of events. "If my grandma even knew what a Facebook page was, I'd show her," he says. "My grandma's biggest fear was dying with no friends. I wish I could show her how many 'friends' she has out there, and how many prayers people are saying for her."
     Take that, social-media rubberneckers.
     Photo above courtesy Gail Cook, via Nashua Patch.