Monthly Archives: February 2013

Bonus Reel: Applebee’s Biggest PR Mistake

Director of Interactive Branding Jason Ginsburg reveals Applebee’s biggest mistake of its crazy Facebook night.

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Social Media PR Disasters: Applebee’s Wild Night

You probably know about the Applebee’s waitress who was fired for posting a customer’s receipt that had a derogatory statement on it. You may not be aware of the aftermath, which took place in the wee hours of Saturday, February 2. It’s virtually a textbook example of what not to do in a PR crisis.

The Brand
Applebee’s
·      3.8 million Facebook likes
·      85,700 Twitter followers
·      279,000 YouTube views

The Incident
Around noon on Friday, Applebee’s issued an official statement about the firing on its Facebook page, explaining that posting a customer’s name was a violation of its policies. Defenders of the waitress rushed to Facebook to complain, noting that Applebee’s itself had posted a photo of a customer’s name on Facebook – though that customer’s note was positive. Rather than address the issue, Applebee’s deleted the photo. And the company remained silent as the negative comments mounted, surpassing 17,000 after midnight.

The Problem
At 2:53 a.m., whoever runs Applebee’s Facebook page suddenly began replying to the comments. Worse, instead of making a big, clear announcement with a new post, Applebee’s replied in the comments of its original post, where it was quickly buried under hundreds of new complaints. Even worse, Applebee’s committed a cardinal sin of social media by deleting some negative comments and blocking select people from commenting. This, of course, led to a new round of criticism and mockery.

Screen shot from R.L. Stollar

Screen shot from R.L. Stollar

The Response
It was now after 3 a.m. Did Applebee’s issue an apology and call it a night? No, the restaurant began posting the same boilerplate reply over and over, tagging negative commenters’ names to make sure they would see it. The commenters then decried the repetitive posts. Applebee’s continued with the cut-and-paste replies, sometimes tagging individual commenters and pleading for understanding. One critic responded: “Stop insulting us by claiming we got our facts wrong…if there is some specific information we do not have that will correct the record, then either share it or continue to hide behind your lawyers.”

The Result
At almost 4:30 a.m., Applebee’s stopped making comments and finally posted an official status update – a bland non-apology for the “unfortunate situation.” 2,000 negative comments to that update followed. Applebee’s then hid its original post, taking the 20,000 comments with it. People then accused the restaurant of deleting criticism. The saga didn’t end until the following evening; one blogger estimated that Applebee’s three status updates had garnered more than 40,000 comments – almost all of them negative.

Screen shot from R.L. Stollar

Screen shot from R.L. Stollar

The Takeaway
How you can avoid a PR disaster like Applebee’s? Let me count the ways…

– Reply During Daylight Hours
There is no reason to post a major update at 3 o’clock in the morning. At best, you’re unlikely to reach your intended audience. At worst, you may find the late-night crowd a little more ornery then others.  

– Make Statements Clear
Facebook doesn’t make every comment visible, so Applebee’s replies were quickly bumped off the page. Instead, the company should have posted new status updates, which stand out and look official. 

– Don’t Lose Your Cool
Another mistake was switching from “we” to “I”: “No one’s asking me to comment at 5 am. I am because I care, we care.” Was that Applebee’s speaking or just one of its employees? Or its PR firm? Statements like that only confuse the situation.

– Don’t Put Your Social Media in the Hands of an Intern
I doubt that Applebee’s official PR firm or marketing department was posting at 3 a.m. It’s tempting to let the summer intern handle your social channels, but disasters like this should make you reconsider who’s in charge of these very important public communications outlets. 

At the same time, a similar debacle took place on Twitter, showing that Applebee’s truly needs to re-evaluate its social media strategy – and its personnel.

Is your social media in the best hands? Brandemix specializes in social media for customer service, branding, and recruiting. If you’d like to reduce your risk of a PR disaster, 
we’d love to hear from you.
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Are Twitter and Vine Shrinking Our Attention Spans?

Since the beginning, Twitter users, including me, have at times been stymied and frustrated by Twitter’s seemingly arbitrary character limit, which redefined social media. Now Twitter aims to shift the paradigm for visual sharing as well with Vine, an app for sharing six-second videos. Is it the perfect balance between Instagram’s single images and YouTube’s long videos? Is it the best of both sites? The worst?

For me, the bigger question is: How much shorter can our content get?

Twitter’s 140-character limit has driven all its users, from high school students to the New York Times, to get creative when communicating. And if you want to encourage retweets, the number should be closer to 115, since some Twitter applications add your handle to the retweet (Twitter itself does not).

But it doesn’t end with Twitter. Social Media Today published an analysis that Facebook posts of 70 characters or less get the most likes and comments; posts from 71 to 140 characters do less well; and the number of likes drops tremendously when posts are more than 140 characters. The same number as a tweet – coincidence?

courtesy of Track Social and Social Media Today

courtesy of Track Social and Social Media Today

The visual social site Pinterest virtually does away with words altogether. Though Pinterest allows 500 characters for descriptions, many “pins” lack any descriptions, and some even lack titles. Over on YouTube, a study by Pew found that 29% of the most popular videos were a minute or less in length.

The trend goes beyond social media. Numerous sources state that the average length of a text message is 160 characters, which makes room for three or four words more than Twitter does. But despite the extra letters, texting brought us abbreviations like “c u l8r” and “how r u?” Those “words” have found their way into lots of online content – though not blog posts, thankfully. Yet.

Into this race to the shortest content comes Vine, with its limit of six seconds. While this allows for stop-motion animation, since users can open and close the “shutter” as much as they want, it doesn’t allow for any editing, sound effects, graphics, or titles. The videos play in a loop, much like GIFs from the slow-modem 90s and which have themselves enjoyed a recent renaissance.

Unlike GIFs, Vine videos include sound. If the user doesn’t speak, the viewer ends up hearing breathing or background noise, usually a TV. With no music or titles, many videos show a single slice of life and create a sort of Zen experience, hypnotizing you as they automatically play over and over. Like the microphone, the replay feature can’t be shut off.

People’s natural instinct is to use any new platform to tell stories. Ad agencies will use it to sell brands. There has even been some, shall we say, erotica uploaded to Vine. But how much story, or branding, or even pornography can be packed into just six seconds?

Vine screen shot

Years ago, many people bemoaned the MTV generation, which supposedly shortened the attention spans of Generation X’ers and affected everything from movie plots to video gameplay. The internet was the next step in that process, making text, photos, and videos available almost instantly. Then mobile technology allowed us to consume content while waiting in line or sitting on a plane. Twitter took us to the next level and now they’re taking us to another one. Are there any levels left?

It’s possible that Vine will be a failure, or a novelty, and most of us will stick with photos or “normal” videos. But if it’s a huge hit, and our attention spans shrink again, then I have to wonder, how much will be left?