Category Archives: social media pr disaster

Brandemix Bonus Reel: Hack Me If You Can




Director of Interactive Branding Jason Ginsburg explains what Jeep and Burger King did right — and wrong — during and after their Twitter hacks.

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Bonus Reel: Applebee’s Biggest PR Mistake

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

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.
For the latest on social media, online recruiting, mobile marketing, and other branding trends, please like Brandemix on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, and join our LinkedIn group, Your Digital Brand.

The Most Popular Blog Posts of 2012

As the year comes to a close, I’m looking back at this year’s most popular blog posts. The topics range from examples of the best social media to some of the worst, and from internal branding to external. In case you missed them, here are the BrandeBlog’s five most-read posts of 2012.

Employer Branding Numbers Everyone Should Know
2012 brought us a number of recruiting studies that turned conventional wisdom upside-down. How many employers said they had an employer branding strategy? How many employees leave a company for reasons other than money? How many companies plan to increase their investment in employer branding? The answers may surprise you.

Social Media PR Disasters: #McDStories
Sometimes you can learn more from a failure than a success. That was certainly true of our story on McDonald’s Twitter debacle, in which an innocent hashtag was taken over by critics and pranksters in a matter of hours. See how McDonald’s reacted and learn what to do (and not to do) when your brand encounters a similar social media crisis.

What’s Foursquare Really For?
The best social sites have stated goals: Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for business, Instagram is for photos. But what about Foursquare? Is it for sharing local finds with your friends? Posting reviews for strangers? Competing for discounts with other customers? Discover Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley’s answers to these and other tough questions in this post.

Social Media Marketing Simplified
Ever come out of a social media planning session with your head spinning? New forms of marketing have created new buzzwords like optimize, reciprocity, and engagement. But you don’t have to learn all the jargon to have a successful social media campaign; you only need to answer three basic questions.

Why State Farm is a Social Media Superstar
The most popular post of the year was an exploration of State Farm’s social media recruiting. The insurance company has a dedicated Facebook Page and answers questions and comments within 24 hours. The State Farm careers site features videos testimonials from interns, a rarely seen part of a company’s workforce. Finally, State Farm’s interactive website takes online recruiting to a whole other level. See how your brand can attain “Superstar” status here.

What do these posts’ popularity tell us? That there a lot of people with an interest in – and a need for – social media trends, marketing, and branding. As it so happens, they are also specialties of ours!

Put Brandemix on your to-do list for 2013; we want to be popular, too.

Social Media PR Disasters: The Kansas City Chiefs Get Tackled For A Loss

I’ve showed you some pretty big mistakes in the past, but this one is a doozy. It breaks so many commonsense social media rules that it almost seems like an urban legend. But it really happened, to an NFL franchise, which proves it can happen to anyone.

The Brand
Kansas City Chiefs

  • 643,000 likes on Facebook
  • 101,500 followers on Twitter
  • 3,381 +1’s on Google Plus

The Incident
Travis Wright, a social media manager and self-described “eternal smart ass”, tweeted the following about his beloved Kansas City Chiefs:

Crude? Yes. Rude? Sure. But this is football, and every team, from the Super Bowl champion Giants down to the…well, the Chiefs, has experienced vitriol like this. But rarely do teams actually respond.

The Problem
The Chiefs responded. Wright got this direct message on Twitter and took a screenshot with his phone:

Then, for good measure, the Chiefs blocked Wright’s Twitter profile, so that their tweets would no longer show up in his feed. A very odd thing to do to someone the franchise called a “fan.” Wright shared their insulting message with his 125,000 followers (which is more than the Chiefs have) and posted it on Reddit. The incident quickly went viral.

The Response
Wright’s tweet was retweeted dozens of times, while his Reddit post drew 500 comments and 1,200 upvotes, bringing it to the front page.

The Result
The next day, the Chiefs apologized:


The Takeaway
The Chiefs botched this about as badly as possible. Here’s a step by step guide to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.

Don’t Insult Anyone Publicly
I probably don’t have to say this, but you should never tell a fan, customer, employee, job-seeker, or donor to “get a clue.” That was first down.

Don’t Insult Anyone Privately
I suppose the person running the Chiefs account thought it was safer to send something mean as a direct message, so no other followers would see it. But just about every device can take screenshots, so that strategy only delayed Wright’s retaliation for about 30 seconds. Second down.

– Don’t Block Anyone
When you block someone on Twitter, you prevent them from seeing your tweets. It’s such a silly punishment that it looks juvenile. And it’s ineffective, because your “victim” can just visit your public Twitter profile. And because the Chiefs didn’t unblock Wright when they issued the apology, he didn’t see it in his feed. That brings up third and long.

– Don’t Use The First Person Singular
That is, if you weren’t using it in the first place. Whoever runs the Chiefs’ Twitter (and that person[s?] has never been revealed) usually refers to the team as “we” or as “the Chiefs.” But the apology said “I apologize,” which conjures the image of one single guy at a computer. It also separated the Twitter manager from the organization; why weren’t the Chiefs the ones apologizing? “We’re sorry” looks a lot better than “I’m sorry” – especially since we don’t even know who the “I” is. Fourth down and time to punt.

– If You’re Going to Respond, Actually Respond
Lost in the profanity was that Wright was bringing up a valid point about how the Chiefs’ owner spends money on players. But the response was that Wright didn’t have his facts straight and should “get a clue.” So what are the facts? Why didn’t the Chiefs point Wright to the correct information? If you’re going to respond to such an angry post – and you don’t have to – at least take the conversation somewhere constructive. All the Chiefs did was make a fan mad. That’s horrible customer service. So I guess you could say the punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

This whole firestorm took place within 24 hours and involved only three tweets. But the damage done to the Chiefs’ brand will last a long time. This is another reason to let a trained communications, marketing, or HR professional run your social media profiles. If you don’t have one, we’d be happy to help.


Social Media PR Disasters: #McDStories

This PR crisis may have come and gone within a few hours, but it’s still important. Why? Because it happened to McDonald’s, the sixth most valuable brand in the world. The story demonstrates that no one, not even a global restaurant giant, can control conversations on the internet.

The Response
McDonald’s pulled the promoted tweet within two hours. Social Media Director Rick Wion released a statement that included, “With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger.” Wion pointed out that there were around 1,600 negative tweets about McDonald’s that day, out of almost 73,000 total mentions, putting the “disaster” in some perspective.


The Result

Though the crisis only lasted for a few hours, media outlets from the Los Angeles Times to London’s Daily Mail, jumped on the story of such a high-profile PR failure. I find it interesting that McDonald’s #MeetTheFarmers hashtag was untouched in all the madness. A few days later, McDonald’s launched another promoted hashtag, #LittleThings, apparently unaware that it was already being used by DoubleTree Hotels.

The Takeaway
Sure, you’re no McDonald’s. Still – how can you avoid a similar PR disaster?

 – Focus on Your Fans
McDonald’s promoted #McDStories to the entire internet, inviting anyone who visited the Twitter homepage to post their thoughts. While I admire this, there’s no reason the company couldn’t have simply used the hashtag in tweets to its almost 300,000 followers. That audience would have been more likely to share positive stories.

– Manage the Message
McDonald’s second mistake was introducing the #McDStories hashtag without any explanation, and leaving the meaning vague. I bet just about everyone in the world has had an experience with the restaurant, and some of them are bound to be bad. On the other hand, #MeetTheFarmers is very clearly defined, even to the point that it doesn’t really invite people to use it. How many people know the McDonald’s farmers? 

– Know When to Fold ‘Em
McDonald’s could have tried to steer the conversation, allowing the hashtag to continue for hours or even days. Social Media Director Wion saw that, while #MeetTheFarmers was getting the company’s message across, McDonald’s was paying for people to publicly criticize its brand. And there was no dignified way to explain what #McDStories was intended to mean. Rather than fight a high-profile, losing battle, Wion made the right call and chose to end the campaign.

While this crisis is over, it goes to show that social media PR disasters can happen anywhere, at anytime, for any reason. Whose hashtag will be next?


For the latest on social media, online recruiting, mobile marketing, and other branding trends, please 
like Brandemix on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, and join our LinkedIn group, Your Digital Brand