6 Examples of Social Media Crises: What can we learn?

It is not uncommon for a large company to have to deal with a social media crisis and some handle them better than others.

We recently hosted a webinar on How to Effectively Manage a Social Media Crisis which produced some interesting examples and highlighted what we can learn from them.

How not to handle a social media crisis: Applebee’s

What happened: A pastor who had eaten at an Applebee’s restaurant crossed out the automatic 18% tip charged for parties of more than eight and wrote “I give God 10% why do you get 18” above her signature. A waitress at the restaurant took a photo of this and posted it on Reddit. She was subsequently fired for “violating customer privacy” which would have been understandable if Applebee’s had not posted a similar receipt that was complimenting them just 2 weeks prior.

As news of this incident spread like wildfire and infuriated people across all social media platforms, Applebee’s responded with a short post defending their actions on their Facebook page. This quickly drew over 10,000 mostly negative comments, to which Applebee’s started responding by posting the same comment over and over again. They were also be accused of deleting negative comments and blocking users.

The downward spiral continued as Applebee’s persisted to defend their actions and argue with users that criticised them. By the following day, after the original post had generated over 19,000 comments, Applebee’s decided to hide the post which only created more anger.

What we can learn: Applebee’s defensive and even argumentative approach amplified the whole situation and blocking users, tagging users in repetitive posts and hiding criticism only make things worse. The bottom line? Arguing with Facebook users is always a bad idea.


A social media crisis handled with honesty and speed: Kitchenaid

What happened: An insensitive tweet about President Obama’s grandmother was posted to the Kitchenaid Twitter account, instead of the personal account of a KitchenAid staff member. The tweet was quickly deleted, but many people had already seen it. The head of the Kitchenaid brand, Cynthia Soledad, took to the Twitter account just 15 minutes later and explained what had happened. She apologised to President Obama and the public and pointed out that the person who posted this will no longer be tweeting for them.

What we can learn: First of all, this emphasises the importance of keeping personal and company accounts separate, but if a mistake does happen it should be addressed immediately. Time moves very quickly on social media, so companies need to take decisive action as quickly as Cynthia Soledad did. Her honest explanation and personal apology was well received and the damage to the brand reputation was limited as a result.


Other notable examples

DKNY: After a photographer realised that DKNY were using his photos in a window display without his permission,  he mobilised his community to share a post asking DKNY to donate $100,000 to a local YMCA in lieu of compensation. DKNY responded quickly by way of an apology. They explained that the Bangkok store involved had accidently used the ‘mock-up’ photos and they promised to donate $25,000 to the YMCA. The photographer accepted it was an honest mistake and thanked them for the donation. DKNY’s quick and strong response successfully defused the situation before a social media crisis erupted.


Burger King: The Burger King Twitter account was recently hacked and the person who gained access to the account changed the name to McDonald’s and began promoting McDonald’s in their tweets. By the time Burger King had regained control of their account and issued an apology, they had gained 30,000 new followers. This led some to suggest it wasn’t a crisis at all, but actually wielded positive results. Either way, it taught us all a lesson in the importance of password security.


HMV: HMV (a UK entertainment retailer) recently laid off a large number of staff without considering the fact that some still had access to the corporate Twitter account. One member of staff took advantage of this by live tweeting the “mass execution of loyal employees who love the brand”. It seems that no one in senior management knew the Twitter password and they were powerless to stop it.


O2: During a massive network outage, O2’s Twitter account became inundated with tweets by frustrated customers. Instead of issuing standard corporate responses, O2 responded directly to these tweets with an honest and light-hearted demeanor. Their human approach was extremely refreshing and sentiment changed dramatically as a result.

You can listen to the recording of the webinar here.

Are there any other examples you would add?

20 thoughts on “6 Examples of Social Media Crises: What can we learn?

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  18. Ashley

    I love these sorts of posts. I read the brand failures books and loved them, so this sort of thing suits me down to the ground.

  19. Vicky

    You might want to take a look at what is going on with Grazia’s Facebook at the moment. They published an awful article on breeding your pets for profit, and despite 2 weeks of intense backlash they have posted one very poor apology. No engagement on social media at all.

  20. Julia McCoy

    Fun and insightful read! It would’ve been better, I think, if smaller brands are added to the list of samples so small business owners can better relate. Awesome examples, overall. The more reason brands should be watching what is being said about them in social media, prepare response templates, and address issues online.

    Thanks much for sharing!


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