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Applebee's recent PR failure can serve as a case of worst practices in social media

Applebee’s recent PR failure can serve as a case of worst practices in social media.

I’m sure most of you have heard of the recent debacle at your friendly neighborhood Applebee’s, but for those of you still out of the loop here is the rundown.

A waitress at Applebee’s posted a picture of a bill with a hand-written note form a customer complaining about the built-in gratuity. The customer crossed out the 18 percent and added “I give God 10 percent, why would I give you 18?”

After the photo was posted the worker was fired and chaos ensued.

I’m not here to argue for freedom of speech, or even to make a case for the fact that another Applebee’s bill was posted on a social media site with a positive comment and no disciplinary actions were taken.

Instead, I would like to draw attention to some major no-no’s on the part of Applebee’s social media team and see what can be learned from such a catastrophic failure.

First let’s talk about what went wrong.

In PR there are plenty of ways to deal with a crisis, two of which are complete and total transparency as well as strategic silence. As I’m sure you can tell, by definition, the two do not mesh. Even individually, Applebee’s managed to botch the methods.

In an interview with ABC News, Dan Smith, Applebee’s spokesperson, admitted to in many cases, responding to negative comments on their Facebook page by copying and pasting the policy which the former employee had violated. This, in my mind, is worse than the automated replies used by some companies. This approach is unprofessional and only served to fuel the firestorm of angry comments towards the comany.

To make matters worse, the company disabled user posts on their Facebook page, thus rendering the public voiceless. This defeats the entire purpose of social media for corporate use. Without feedback from the public, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and all other mediums simply become another advertisement lost in the clutter. In this particular case, this move also made it look as though Applebee’s had something to hide. This is what I was referring to earlier about missing the mark on the strategic silence approach.

So, what can be learned from Applebee’s misfortune?

First and foremost, before there ever is a crisis on hand, companies need to have a plan of action. This is especially true now, in the age of social media when a single comment or post can serve as a catalyst for all sorts of bad press. Applebee’s first mistake was not having this plan laid out.

Next was the generic response to comments on their Facebook page.  Again I’ll stress the importance of social media as a form of two-way communication. Consumers know when you are not being authentic in your response and an automated response is by no means genuine.

Saving the best for last-and by best I mean worst- Applebee’s disabled user comments. In the ABC interview, Smith explains that this was in an attempt to respond to the overwhelming amount of comments. If this is indeed true, there is another very simple solution. RELEASE A STATEMENT. Facebook and Twitter are excellent venues to release a single, concise, and well planned statement which will deliver your desired message the public all at once.

The bottom line is that social media has changed the way we interact with our audiences and crisis management needs to evolve with the times.

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