Reactive Limbo: Do You Have a Social Media Crisis Plan?

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automotive-social-media-reputationNothing feels worse than having no control over your online reputation.

There’ve been a few Social Media meltdowns lately and, wow, they’re not pretty. The first one was an automotive online reputation management provider (oh, the irony). The other was Applebee’s.

Meltdowns are becoming more frequent now because many companies are figuring out that Social Media is a great place to connect with customer and build an audience of loyal fans. More often than not, though, companies decide to jump into Social Media and forget that you must have a crisis plan in place before you post your first update. Many dealerships choose a marketing person (in-house) or they hire an outside company, (or a mix of both) and assume that it’s all handled from there.

Applebee’s overnight meltdown started when a customer (a pastor) chose to deny their waitress a tip. The pastor was apparently unhappy about the 18% gratuity on the tab for their large party so she inscribed on her credit card slip, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” and then put zero on the tip line. Another waitress saw what happened and decided to share a picture of it on Social Media. Once Applebee’s found out, they promptly fired the waitress for “violating the customer’s privacy”. However, as was quickly pointed out by users, just two weeks earlier, Applebee’s had violated another guest’s right to privacy themselves by posting a picture of a note from a guest that clearly featured the guest’s name. Most interestingly, Applebee’s deleted this picture right when the fired waitress issue went viral.


Things went downhill from there. The image of the credit card slip went viral. There were calls for the reinstatement of the waitress. And, as an illustration of why you always need a Social Media crisis plan, negative posts to Applebee’s Facebook page numbered upwards of 41,000. They (whoever was managing the Facebook page for Applebee’s) got into a lengthy argument with numerous users, digging themselves deeper and deeper into Social Media purgatory.

The second meltdown happened on Facebook as well. One of the “chosen” (OEM-preferred) providers of online reputation management for car dealers posted an update about their upcoming Webinar serendipitously entitled “How to Take Control on Your Dealership’s Online Reputation”. The Facebook post had somehow attracted 1,114 Likes. Many of those in the automotive marketing space took notice and it wasn’t long until it was clear to those watching that these Likes were not obtained using traditional methods. (Yes, you can purchase Facebook Likes and it’s not only a waste of money but it damages your brand).

Quickly, this situation became viral on the company’s page so they responded proclaiming they were victims of “Spam Bots”. Anyone who spends a lot time in the Social Media marketing field knows that this was a terribly silly story (spam bots don’t happen like that). The company’s response only enflamed things. Instead of coming clean, they kept digging themselves deeper. They eventually deleted the post but not before screen shots were taken and a discussion initiated on all the automotive Social networks.

There are lessons to be learned witnessing these two meltdowns. Pay attention because they aren’t the last and it could be you at some point:

  • No matter who’s handling your Social Media, never assume it’s handled 100%. Doing so, leaves you in a reactive limbo that feels really uncomfortable. No one watches your online reputation like you do!
  • Always have a Social Media crisis plan in place. Be proactive. Take the necessary steps to prevent the preventable risk. Then, develop a crisis management plan to protect and prepare your company against the unpreventable risk.
  • When you’re in the eye of the storm, don’t be disingenuous. Users spot it immediately. Be as transparent and real as possible.
  • When you’re caught making a mistake, come clean. Admit it and move on. The only thing people like more than a meltdown is unbridled apologies and the ensuing redemption. We all make mistakes. It’s uncomfortable and it passes.

So many times, a meltdown can be prevented. Stay true to your brand’s ideals, give everyone a voice and always be authentic. It’s never fun being the subject of online ridicule but with a good crisis management plan and a little finesse, you can overcome the onslaught and live to sell another day.

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  • KarenSwim

    Excellent post Kathi! The ease of access and immediacy of social media too often lure brands into failing to treat it like any other medium. Before you jump into online conversations you should have a clear communication plan that includes steps for escalation and how to handle a crisis. As you pointed out mistakes will happen but being prepared can at least minimize the damage and preserve your reputation.

    • krusecontrol

      Thanks Karen. Great point. Social is Media and being prepared for at least some of the situations that come up is smart. Before, marketing was a one-way communication without too much risk. Now, it’s 3-way (brand, consumer and employee) so having a plan in place helps everyone, especially during a crisis.