Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fresh and Sizzling at Applebee’s: Social Media Reputation Management

The recent “social meltdown” at Applebee’s went right by the part of the world that could not care less about Reddit, Twitter or Facebook. It never made a large impact in the news and it certainly was not life-changing for more than one or two people. However, this social crisis illustrates an interesting fact about our world: one wrong move in the social arena can generate thousands of angry, irate people blasting your Facebook page or Twitter accounts, and there is little you can do at that point but try to manage the crisis, wait for it to blow over and hope the next atomic bomb does not drop on you.

Is there a way to learn from Applebee’s handling of the social crisis it recently endured? An examination of the facts may help other businesses avoid the issues that came up when Applebee’s responded to social criticism in a way that may have fanned the flames.

Here’s what happened:

A group came into a St. Louis Applebee’s and the leader, a self-proclaimed pastor, refused to pay the 18 percent required tip for a large group. Instead, they left their tips on the table in cash. A waitress who was not even waiting on the group in question photographed a note they left on the table including the words “pastor” and posted it on Reddit. Subsequently, hate mail to the pastor caused her to chide Applebee’s for violations of her privacy and the server was fired. Now, there are all sorts of things wrong with this story on all sides. However, Applebee’s next moves were what sealed its fate in the social media wars. Instead of simply apologizing for the incident, Applebee’s proceeded to post in the middle of the night on Facebook and attempted to gloss over the situation. The angry Reddit mob quickly grew and spread to Facebook and Twitter, as well as a petition to get the server her job back.

None of this needed to have happened. Applebee’s had several courses of action open to it, one of which, very simply, was to broker an apology on both sides. That could have been spun into a great, positive social media experience.

Instead, by handling things in a wishy-washy manner, a server is out of a job and Applebee’s has been grilled in social media.

Handling negative input on social media is something that every company should have a plan in place to deal with. Applebee’s apparently learned that lesson the hard way.

At top of the page:

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