A Reputation Management Lesson from Applebee’s

A social media campaign is a great idea when it comes to marketing your business – if you know how to use it. Having a constant, current connection with your customers can be either a blessing or a curse. Recently, Applebee’s showed us what happens when you don’t know how to respond well to unhappy social media users.

What Sparked It

In case you haven’t heard, a pastor recently dined at a St. Louis Applebee’s. When her check came, an 18% gratuity was automatically added to it. She crossed out the gratuity and wrote “I give God 10%, why do you get 18?” Having found it somewhat amusing, another employee named Chelsea Welch posted a picture of the receipt on Reddit and lost her job. Applebee’s stated that showing a receipt with a customer’s name on it is an invasion of the customer’s privacy.

The Response

When word got around that Welch was fired, all hell broke loose on social media platforms. The topic was immediately spread throughout Twitter and comments started pouring in on Applebee’s Facebook page. Many vowed to boycott the restaurant until Welch was rehired. Applebee’s decided to post a status on Facebook that said:

“We wish this situation didn’t happen. Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private… Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy.”

It didn’t take long for Facebook users to respond. About 9 hours after the status was posted, it had over 10,000 comments – and many of them were negative.

To Add to It…

A couple weeks before this incident, Applebee’s posted a picture of a note written by a guest that stated how much he loved that particular location (and included his signature). This added to the uproar, causing comments like:

“…you have no qualms posting the exact same customer information when it is good feedback and not a snide comment by a horrible person.”

Applebee’s began allegedly deleting negative comments and blocking people from their page (which didn’t sit well with users). Then, in the middle of the night (about 12 hours after posting the above status), whoever runs Applebee’s’ social media campaign decided to post a lengthy explanation of what happened and why they fired Welch. The only thing is, they posted it as a comment to their previous status instead of a new status – a huge Facebook faux pas.

Continuing the Hole-Digging

After that, they began copying and pasting an apology to users who complained. (This didn’t sit well with users either.) Not 15 minutes later, instead of laying low for a little while, they began choosing comments at random and posting responses that fought back.

By 2 p.m. the next day, the original Facebook status they posted (which accumulated over 20,000 comments) was gone – along with all of the comments. This caused yet more negative responses. Now, over a week after the incident, comments are still floating around Facebook and Twitter and Applebee’s is being remembered as a company that went through a social media meltdown.

When you run a business, you risk the chance of receiving negative feedback on your social media platforms. However, if you’re prepared to respond to this feedback, you can save yourself a world of trouble.

If you’re looking for someone to manage your social media campaign, contact the digital marketing agency experts at Prager.

Client Spotlight

Check out some of the work we've done to help these clients succeed: