I love Applebee’s. Always have since moving to the USA, and experiencing the largest nachos I had ever seen at that point in time and enjoying a burger wrapped in a quesadilla, that satisfies all sorts of cravings at once.
However, their recent social media efforts, caused by a situation in my adopted hometown of St. Louis, have left much to be desired.
Here’s some background.
- A local pastor wrote a note on a receipt asking why Applebee’s deserved 18% when she gave God only 10%.
- An Applebee’s team member posted the receipt online, where it went viral.
- Applebee’s fired the team member.
That’s the situation in a nutshell. There are a lot more details, such as company policy prohibiting posting customer information online, that it was another server who did the posting, that the pastor did actually pay the tip, that Applebee’s is still delicious, and a few others.
What is most interesting is the strange combination of doing the right and the wrong things on social media and offline in response. And the absolute mess it caused.
First, here’s what they did right.
- They responded.
- They interacted.
- They stood behind their customers right to privacy.
Now, for the list of things they did wrong.
- They fired the team member, when the online commentary made it quite clear the negative sentiment was not directed towards the restaurant, thus making themselves the bad guys.
- They tried to hide behind policy, real or not, rather than made amends.
- They began seriously responding at 2am.
- They began deleting negative comments.
- They began making important comments in the middle of a post’s comment rather than creating a new comment.
- They kept talking.
- They got defensive.
All this wrong is hurting Applebee’s reputation, with people claiming they will never eat there again unless they hire the team member back again. And if they mean it, then the people who will get hurt the most are the team members who are still employed.
So, what should Applebee’s have done differently and what should they do now.
- Not fire the employee, simply put them on notice to never do that again. And also apologize to the guest for posting their personal details online without permission. A free meal or gift certificate would have been a nice touch.
- Post a note on their Facebook page, stating that they were committed to guest and employee privacy, and that any negative attacks against individuals would not be allowed on their wall.
- Be consistent in their guidelines and practices. Don’t post guest private information on their social media channel one week and then drop the axe on a team member who does it the next.
If they had done that, the storm may have happened, but without as much damage.
- Rehire the team member, with the understanding that this level of stupidity in the future will result in her leaving once again.
- Apologize, one final time. And then take a break from the topic. Get back to promoting food.
- Know when to walk away, let people vent, and then repair the relationship afterwards. Don’t argue with them. Sometimes you just need to shut up and then pick things up again when people have calmed down.
- Give some stuff away. I think a free meal for every professional server and every minister on a certain day would show the world they are apologetic to both sides of this debacle, and ensure that people can feel good about forgiving their actions.
One of my social-media savvy coworkers here at Elasticity, Colby Gergen, said it quite well when we were discussing this topic via e-mail here at the office.
“As they say, great power comes with great responsibility. It’s no secret that social media has great power to impress, as Oreo proved by taking the Twitter world by storm during the Super Bowl blackout, but that same power can also harm brands who don’t use it responsibly,” Colby wrote. “Applebees’ social media team, whether it was guided by messaging from the company at large or not, exacerbated the issue when they jumped into the scrum – becoming defensive directly with users, replying with personal pronouns (ie, “I care…”), and hiding or deleting comments.”
“There’s a reason the pundits refer to these situations as a “social media storm” – if you don’t have the right gear to weather it, batten down the hatches and protect what you can,” he continued. “The storm is going to happen no matter what and social media managers need to use what’s already at their disposal to weather it. Applebees’ social media team was chasing a tornado in a Geo Metro. That’s not going to end well for the Geo Metro.”
So, basically, understand the limitations of your “car,” and take cover for a while if necessary. But then emerge from the rubble, and re-engage. Remember, it’s “social” media, which requires being social.
And now, thank you very much, I’m hungry.