Maybe you saw it on the news or maybe you’re one of their almost 4 million chicken wing-loving Facebook fans. Either way, you’re probably at least slightly aware of Applebee’s recent social media brouhaha. The event all started with the simple firing of a waitress and quickly unraveled into one of the most publicly embarrassing shows of social media ineptitude on record. For salon spa owners, there is a clear lesson in the midst of Applebee’s missteps: exactly what not to do when facing negative comments on your social media pages.
Waitress Chelsea Welch posted an image of a snarky comment a customer left on her co-workers bill to Reddit, a popular social sharing site. Chelsea was later fired for breaking Applebee’s confidentiality agreement, a move that upset Reddit users who then took to the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter pages to complain. Applebee’s 4-person social media team clumsily began addressing the criticism, lacking critical information, telling posters that they were in the wrong and didn’t know the whole story, and even stating they wished they didn’t have to deal with the situation.
The news of their poor social etiquette in the face of adversary, the situation snowballed as more comments piled up on their social pages. Instead of re-assessing and trying a new tactic, Applebee’s began to copy and paste identical responses that dryly cited their corporate policy. Eventually giving up, Applebee’s started hiding messages and blocking users to the page instead of dealing with the upset.
This fiasco certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of some social customers (never a good thing for a restaurant), but there are a few key take-aways for everyone else silently cringing and hoping they never face the same debacle. With 62% of those consumers using social media to comment on customer service issues*, these are lessons you need to know. In fact, the right response could have more of an impact than the issue itself.
Have a Plan
Having to deal with a negative comment or issue via social media is a matter of when, not if. When that time does come, it can be hard to think logically or professionally in the heat of the moment, so by coming up with a response strategy now, you’ll look cool, calm and collected. Start by figuring out who will be responsible for responding to these types of situations. What steps need to be taken to find out what happened and coming up with a solution? Do they need to get approval before doing so? What are some responses that are in line with your business’s image and values?
Your natural response is going to be to get defensive. It’s understandable. You have an awesome business and everyone should know it. But it’s best to hear out the individual. By deleting a negative comment, you could create an even bigger issue, not make it go away, and responding to their complaint or review in a way that invalidates their opinion or tells them that they are wrong makes you look like childish. Acknowledge and thank (yes, thank) them for their feedback.
Applebee’s certainly added fuel to the fire, instead of calming the situation. Going back and forth with a client in a place where everyone can see it is like airing your dirty laundry in public. Acknowledge the comment publicly and ask them to discuss further with you privately. If you’re unable to contact them directly, ask that they contact you. For issues not involving a specific individual, state your position and then lay low. Posting over and over again, especially if there is no new information, only lessens your credibility. Finally, be sure to keep private matters like internal policy and employee issues private. Posting this looks like you’re trying to deflect blame.