It’s not hard to commit social media suicide if you don’t know what you’re doing…
Those who are active on social media could not have missed the recent scandal involving US restaurant chain Applebee’s. If, however, you haven’t heard the story for some reason, here’s a quick rundown.
An Applebee’s employee, Chelsea Welch, was fired last week for publishing a receipt online where a customer refused to leave a tip, writing on the receipt that she already gave God 10 per cent, so why should a waitress get 18? When the image hit social news site Reddit, the story went gangbusters.
What followed was an Applebee’s social media meltdown that is still raging today – several weeks after the incident. Not only have Applebee’s lost a barrage of customers because they couldn’t keep a handle on their social media, they also don’t seem to have learnt anything from the experience.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways Applebee’s dealt with this problem on social media, and how they should have handled it.
1. Applebee’s made a public announcement about Chelsea being fired
Whether or not Chelsea did indeed breach her contract isn’t up for discussion – she’s been fired and she will just have to deal with it. However, what Applebee’s should have done is leave the issue at that.
Instead, the restaurant chain decided it would be a smart idea to get a spokesman to announce online the fact that Ms Welch was indeed fired from Applebee’s for violating customer privacy. Why did Applebee’s have to make the firing public? Wouldn’t it have been smarter to simply move on? Sure, there would have still been a few vengeance seekers wielding pitchforks who would have abandoned Applebee’s, but the fact that they made the firing public spread the issue to an entire world of internet vigilantes. They cracked open a can of worms they should have known they couldn’t contain.
2. The social media manager placed the blame solely on (who the internet believed to be) the victim
When you have more than 17,000 replies to a Facebook post regarding the firing one of your staff members, you expect a few of them to be negative. Unfortunately for Applebee’s, 99.9 per cent were negative. Why the social media manager thought it would be a good idea to play the blame game a second time made absolutely no sense.
However, it gets even better. At around 3am, the day after posting the aforementioned ‘explanation’, the social media manager started replying to the Facebook comments and arguing with people, telling them they simply didn’t understand the situation and didn’t have all the facts. When that didn’t work, they copied and pasted a stock reply to dozens of commenters. Sounds confusing? That’s because it is. Not even the social media manager could keep up with it, it seems.
3. The biggest mistake of all: Applebee’s deleted thousands of Facebook comments
Anyone who knows anything about Facebook etiquette for businesses knows you do not – repeat, do not – delete negative comments. The ideal way to take action is to directly respond to the complainant and offer a way to help resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Most companies understand this, and negative comments are often followed up by appreciative statements after the issue has been resolved.
However, Applebee’s aren’t like other businesses on the social media front. They decided that the best way to avoid a catastrophe (which was unavoidable at that point) was to mass delete thousands of negative comments on their Facebook page – and then vehemently deny it. Despite the fact that readers had screen captures of the comments before and after they were deleted did nothing to deter Applebee’s social media guru from stating that, “No posts have been deleted… People get upset and we have not removed posts because they are negative.” It almost beggars belief.
It was later discovered that Applebee’s in fact hid those comments rather than deleted them, but does it really make a difference when the mob was already so riled up?
The moral of this story, which is still hitting headlines today with new information, is that social media is an absolutely vital part of a content marketing strategy for businesses. Therefore, it pays to get it right. So make sure you put the right people in charge of your social media platforms and ensure they understand that social etiquette is key to earning and, most importantly, retaining customers.
Simon Jones – Sub-Editor