Responding to a Social Media Crisis


Social media has taken the world by storm and shows no signs of slowing down. There are millions of users on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, even Myspace has made a return. Remember Tom, your first Myspace friend? As the number of social media users continues to grow, businesses have increased the pace in which they are adopting social media for use in generating new business and connecting with customers. While businesses have demonstrated that they understand the need to have a social media presence, not all businesses understand the impact online customer relationships can have on their reputation and even the bottom line. As we grow into a culture where a single tweet can make national news, businesses must adopt clear policies for handling social media engagement. Today we will examine the companies who got it right, the companies that got it wrong, and one company that turned their experience to a Gold winner in the Cyber Lions category at this year’s Cannes.

First, we will examine the American Red Cross. In February of 2011, social media specialist Gloria Huang mistakenly thought she was tweeting from her personal Twitter account, but instead sent the following tweet out on the organization's Twitter feed: “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right “gettingslizzerd”. Some blogs picked up on the tweet, which stayed up for approximately one hour before the social media director of the Red Cross was informed. The Red Cross acknowledged the snafu with the following humorous tweet: “We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys.” Dogfish Head Beer also got word of the tweet and asked fans to donate to the Red Cross using the hashtag #gettingslizzerd. In the midst of what could have been a major social media crisis, the American Red Cross used humor showing that not all social media crises have to be crippling.

The takeaway: This incident emphasizes the importance of keeping personal and company accounts separate. It also doesn't hurt to have a checks and balances system in place in which someone other than the social media specialist ensures that all online messages on behalf of the company are up to company standards. Finally, this incident shows that mistakes will happen, and when they do, they should be addressed immediately, the damage to the Red Cross reputation was limited as a result.

Unfortunately, not all social media crises come with a happy ending like the Red Cross. In January of this year, an Applebee’s waitress was fired after posting a receipt upon which a pastor had declined to tip. In place of a tip the pastor wrote “I give God 10% why do you get 18%.” After the image of the receipt and the waitress’ subsequent firing went viral, throes of customers flocked to the Applebee’s Facebook fan page demanding that the restaurant re-hire the waitress.

Applebee’s posted a status update about the controversy citing company policy behind the waitress’ firing. The update received 10,000 mostly negative comments. Applebee’s then began tagging Facebook users who left negative comments with a copy and paste response again citing company policy. Regardless of the comment a Facebook user left, they all received the same copy and paste response. This resulted in more backlash for the company, at which point the social media disaster became national news. Finally, the company began hiding negative comments, leading angry posters to believe that their comments were being deleted, which resulted in even more backlash. Applebee’s spokesman Dan Smith called the incident a “learning experience.”

The Takeaway: Have a plan. The middle of a crisis isn't the time to decide what needs to be done. Also, don’t fight back, this is always a bad idea and you will almost always look like the bad guy.

Finally, we have the maxi pad brand Bodyform. In October 2012 a man named Richard Neill posted a rant on Bodyform's Facebook wall, calling out the brand for false advertising—saying his girlfriend doesn't have happy periods like those depicted in the ads, but instead becomes "the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin." The post received more than 84,000 likes. Bodyform replied to Richard Niell’s post with a humorous video in which they pretended to fess up about their pathological lying. Bodyform’s video won gold in the Cyber Lions category at this year’s Cannes.

The Takeaway: Know how to handle customer responses and again don’t fight back. When appropriate, laugh about the situation. The Red Cross and Bodyform were able to avoid reputation damage by showing a sense of humor and humanizing the brand.

How would you handle a social media crisis?