Gini explains how approximately 2 years ago, a waitress at an Applebee’s in St. Louis left a check at a table that included an automatic gratuity of 18%. When she returned to collect the check, the customer had crossed out the 18% and had written, “I give God 10%, why do you get 18%?” The customer left a 10% tip instead.

One of the waitress’ friends took a photo of the receipt, which included the customer’s name, and posted it on Reddit. This led to it going viral and the whole world saw it.

Applebee’s response was that they were going to fire the waitress and her friend, because it was against their policy to show pictures or talk about customers. Especially when a name is included.

What happened next on Applebee’s Facebook page added fuel to the fire.

applebees facebook page
Applebee’s didn’t handle the situation well on their Facebook page.

Applebee’s replied to every person’s comment on Facebook with a canned PR response. You’ll hear what the response included.

applebees facebook feedback
Applebee’s customers were in an uproar.

People didn’t take kindly to the way Applebee’s handled the situation, and started to dig deep on the Internet. Pictures were discovered that had been posted with good customer feedback on their Facebook page. Although these pictures included the customer’s name, nobody got fired for it. A Facebook page was then started to try to get the waitress’ job back.

You’ll hear what Gini’s gut instinct was on the person who was handling the corporate Facebook page for Applebee’s, and why it contributed to the crisis.

Gini advises you never to use a canned PR message on social media, because it’s about being social. You need to engage, be transparent and remain human. This means you need to show sympathy and empathy toward what’s happening.

Always take time to think about the statement before you put it out there.

Listen to the show to find out how the way you handle a social media crisis can affect your sales.

The first thing you should do once you’re aware of an issue

Gini says that the first thing you should do is understand what has happened. This means communicating with both sides to get the bigger picture.

In Applebee’s case, they should have listened to the customer, the waitress and her friend before they did anything else—whether they had a policy in place or not.

Listen to both sides of the story before you jump in with your emotions. Image source: iStockphoto

You have to remember that we live in a world of instant gratification, where people tend to react before they think the situation through. This is when trouble starts and the problem spirals out of control.

As a company, you need to step back and figure out your plan of action and your strategy before you can move forward.

You’ll hear why it’s important to acknowledge that you are aware of the situation, and the type of message you need to convey.

Listen to the show to find out what happens with communication when an attorney is involved.

A reasonable response time to acknowledge a crisis

Gini always advises businesses to respond within 24 hours when a crisis happens. Don’t ever let it go all day.

When it happens outside of work hours, make sure you respond within the next work day. Let people know that you are aware of the situation and you’ll get back to them once you have investigated the matter.

On weekends, you need to have someone monitoring your social media channels, and they need to be aware of whom to contact when a crisis arises.

social media
Always have someone monitoring your social media channels over the weekend. Image source: iStockphoto

If it’s a case of one blogger who has written something bad, but other people aren’t aware of it, then you need to approach the blogger privately. You’ll hear what you need to look out for in this situation and how to handle it.

When you do have a crisis on your hands, you should always remain honest throughout the communication and make the effort to keep people up to date with what’s happening. People are pretty understanding when you continue to keep them in the loop.

Buffer is a great example of how to deal with a crisis. You’ll hear how they kept the situation under control and the ways they communicated with their customers.

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buffer facebook message
Buffer did an exceptional job of keeping their customers informed.

Whichever platform the crisis erupts on should be the channel where keep up your communication.

When two of Domino’s employees released a controversial video on YouTube, the company CEO released an apology video on the same platform.

You’ll find out the types of statements you should make to take ownership of the situation.

Listen to the show to hear an example of a statement that was made by a CEO of a blog when scraping content was involved.

Common mistakes businesses make when dealing with a crisis

One of the biggest mistakes Gini sees is that people get defensive immediately, and this is when it can get out of control.

First you need to take a step back and look at the overall picture. It’s always helpful to have a communications professional on hand who can advise you on how to communicate going forward.

In the United Breaks Guitars story, the airline didn’t handle the situation effectively. In July 2009, the first United Breaks Guitar song was released on YouTube and immediately the media went crazy.

Before you know it, people can get hold of the story, add their two cents and amplify the impact. You’ll hear why it’s important to tell the full story, and also when you’re unable to even comment.

Listen to the show to discover how Chrysler handled a crisis when someone from an agency tweeted out profanity on their corporate account.

The type of plan businesses should have in place prior to a crisis

Gini says that you don’t really need to have a plan in place. However, you do have to practice humility and not be defensive.

“I’m sorry” works extremely well if you say it and mean it. You’ll find out what words you should never follow if you want to keep people on your side.

i am sorry message
The words “I’m sorry” go a long way. Image source: iStockphoto

It’s less about a plan to follow, and more about being human. Know how to apologize and mean it.

When it turns nasty, it is tempting to call in the cavalry. When we received all of the negative reviews for our Let’s Get Social video, I resisted the urge to contact my friends because I knew in this particular circumstance, it was the right thing to do.

You’ll discover when it helps to call in your friends, and when you need to get legal advice.

Gini advises that if you need to get it off your chest, then write it down but don’t ever publish it.

gini dietrich podcast
Check out the full podcast episode with Gini Dietrich.

Listen to the show hear why in today’s world, it’s easy for any business to have a crisis on their hands.

Discovery of the Week

One of the challenges I face on a day-to-day basis is with my calendar. I use an iPhone and an iMac and have found it hard to synchronize all of my calendars.

So I started to research some options that were available, and came across a really awesome calendar called Sunrise. It’s a free app, which works on iPhone, iPad and I believe it’s available for Android.

sunrise calendar iphone app
The Sunrise calendar app has many capabilities.

What’s really cool is that it integrates with your social media and all of your other networks. It integrates with Google Calendar, Exchange and Facebook.

It also shows you what the weather is going to be. In addition, it synchronizes with iCloud, LinkedIn and Twitter.

I’ve just started to explore all of the capabilities of this app and I’m blown away with how well it works.

I strongly recommend that you check it out.

Listen to the show to learn more and let us know how this works for you.

Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:

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Images from iStockPhoto.

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About the authorMichael Stelzner

Michael Stelzner is the founder of Social Media Examiner and the Social Media Marketing Society. He's host of the Social Media Marketing Podcast, the Web3 Business Podcast, and he's founder of the Social Media Marketing Society. He also authored the books Launch and Writing White Papers.

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