Case studies

How BAW helped Visual Composer manage a difficult PR crisis and fix their relationship with hundreds of confused users

We can always count on these guys.

They’re highly reliable and we know exactly what to expect. No surprises – in the good way! They’re proactive, goal-oriented and they deliver fast.”

– Michael Makijenko, founder of Visual Composer

About Visual Composer

Visual Composer is one of the best-known names in the WordPress space. Under its umbrella, there are now two WP plugins that help users build pages and websites faster and more easily.

The first plugin the company ever launched, Visual Composer Page Builder, changed the way we build WordPress websites forever (using a drag-and-drop editor that allowed even non-professionals to create a page without any coding required). Unfortunately, the same plugin eventually paved the way to the company’s most difficult PR crisis.

The worst PR crisis in the company’s history

It all started when the Visual Composer team decided to develop a new plugin. Not a Page Builder, like the first one they’d built, but a full Website Builder.

Their goal was to offer their users an even better builder than their first one. They named it Visual Composer Website Builder, so people know that it’s the same professional team behind it.

However, they found themselves caught in a series of legal and bureaucratic issues that turned into a full-blown PR crisis.

The story, in short:

  • Their first plugin, Visual Composer Page Builder, was sold through a well-known marketplace where all the products come with lifetime licenses.
  • Their new plugin, Visual Composer Website Builder, was too complex and the costs were too high to be supported by a lifetime license revenue model. So they decided to sell it outside the famous marketplace, with an annual license.
  • Turns out, the contract they’d signed with the marketplace didn’t allow them to sell another product under the name of “Visual Composer” outside of it.
  • If they wanted to sell Visual Composer Website Builder on their own website with an annual license, they had to change the name of the plugin they had on the marketplace (to free themselves of the contractual limitations).
  • And so they did: they changed the name of Visual Composer Page Builder to WP Bakery and moved on to launching their new plugin.
  • Busy with their new product, they didn’t take the time to thoroughly explain any of these changes to their users. Naturally, they had no clue what was happening to Visual Composer.
  • All of a sudden, they were seeing a new name, WP Bakery, attributed to the plugin they’d been using for years. At the same time, they discovered there was a Visual Composer Website Builder, but they had no idea if this was a new plugin, a rebranding, or a copy-cat.

The confusion & rage of thousands of users

For almost a year, the confusion between the two plugins kept growing.

Since the Visual Composer team hadn’t published any official explanation, users started posting questions on social media and forums.

Which plugin is which?

What does each plugin do?

Are they different or is it the same plugin under different names?

Is this a rebranding of some sort?

Did they sell their first plugin and that’s why the name changed?

Is this a copycat plugin made by scammers?

What aggravated the confusion was that all the answers to these questions came from other users who were simply voicing their own theories.

Some believed they were being duped. Some even thought there was some kind of a Ponzi scheme going on. But most of them were simply angry at the company because no one was clearing up the confusion.

Their first attempt to fix the crisis

About one year after launching their new plugin, the Visual Composer team had a full-blown PR crisis on their hands.

Many users had moved from asking questions about Visual Composer to raging against the company and its products. The crisis was now hurting the company’s reputation, in general, and the sales of their new plugin, in particular.

So they decided to take the reins and clear up the confusion between the two plugins, by creating…

  • A video explaining the differences between their plugins, WP Bakery and Visual Composer Website Builder;
  • A long-form article promoting their new plugin, but also explaining the differences between the two products.

Why the attempt failed

By the time they decided to clear up the confusion around the two plugins, the “vibe” had already turned from confusion to anger.

People were past wondering which plugin is which. They demanded to know what was going on with Visual Composer and why. And, most importantly, they wanted why they were kept in the dark for so long.

So when the Visual Composer team posted a video & an article going through the differences between the two plugins and promoting their new product… they did not get the reactions they were expecting.

In fact, the backlash was so bad, they had to turn off comments on their Youtube video.

The reason why might seem counterintuitive:

Instead of feeling enlightened, users felt even more ignored.

By not revealing the full story (including why they changed the name of their first plugin), it looked like the company was intentionally ignoring the underlying problem and was only trying to score more sales for their new plugin.

Our solution

After seeing the reactions to their video & article, Michaelthe founder of Visual Composerasked us to find a better way of explaining what’s going on with their plugins.

We quickly realized that the only way of getting people to listen to what they have to say was to first mend their relationship with the user community.

Then and only then could we clarify the confusion around the two plugins and promote their new product.

“We reached out to BAW because we were dealing with quite a unique situation. There was a lot of confusion around our brand, Visual Composer, which eventually sabotaged the plans we had for our new plugin. We asked them to let the WordPress community know about the recent changes we made and clear the confusion.”

– Michael Makijenko, founder of Visual Composer

The game plan

So we came up with a step-by-step game plan:

  • We publish a series of articles written & signed by Michael – the founder himself – revealing the full story that led to the crisis and apologizing for the confusion they created.
  • We make a new video that tells the whole story in a visual way, so it’s easy for users to understand the intricate details of this confusing situation.
  • We prepare Michael for an AMA on Reddit, the place that hosted the most rage against the company (and where their community hangs out online).

The main goal was changing the attitude of the company towards their users, which would naturally change the users’ attitude towards the company.

“Humanizing” the company

It’s easy to rage against Visual Composer, an abstract entity. But when you put a face to it, the interaction turns from user-company to human-human.

Enter Michael, the founder of Visual Composer.

What better person to represent the company than the guy known for changing the way we build WordPress websites?

By putting a human touch on every message, people understood that the confusion around Visual Composer was an “understandable human mistake” instead of “yet another company who doesn’t care about their users”.

Showing up open, vulnerable and honest

It’s not enough to plaster the founder’s headshot on an article and call it a day.

The key to getting people to listen was an open two-way communication where people could finally feel seen and heard.

What better place for a conversation than a Reddit AMA where the core community of users hang out?

We prepared Michael for the conversation by creating an extensive Reddit AMA guide with multiple scenarios and user personas. This way, he knew exactly what to expect, how to set a friendly & empathetic tone, and what to do in case of aggressive backlash from “haters”.

We also announced the AMA on Reddit a week before, so we can take the “temperature” of the room and know what kind of questions and tone we’ll be dealing with. This gave us the upper-hand in the AMA and allowed us to take control of the conversation from the very beginning.

The results

In just two months, we noticed significant changes in the users’ attitude towards the company and its plugins.

Thanks to the new video & articles, people finally understood what happened with Visual Composer:

… why they had to change the name of their first plugin;

… how the situation snowballed into a full-blown crisis;

… what makes the two plugins different;

… what the future looks like for each of their products.

Thanks to the Reddit AMA, people could talk 1-1 with Visual Composer’s founder and get personalized answers to their questions.

This carefully-prepared conversation had such a deep impact on the user community, that it changed their attitude towards the company and the new plugin:

… they were more respectful to Michael than they ever were before, when talking about the company or its plugins;

… they highly appreciated the attention they got from Michael and his in-depth, thorough answers;

… they immediately adapted their tone to Michael’s friendly answers (even those who criticized his work);

… they were genuinely interested in what Michael has to say about Visual Composer and the company’s future;

… they appreciated Michael’s openness and vulnerability, admitting to his mistakes and talking about his struggles;

… they understood the differences between the two products better and were excited to try the new plugin;

tl;dr: After almost a year of confusion & anger towards the company, the users exposed to our messages were more willing to listen, more empathetic with the Visual Composer team, and more excited to try the new plugin.