Lessons to be learned from Applebee’s social media fiasco


applebees receiptThe news story might be a few weeks old, but the lessons to be learned from it are still valid. Let’s take a look at what non-profit organizations can learn from the Applebee’s Social Media Fiasco.

The story goes like this. A waitress waited on a table with a large party seated at it, and an 18% gratuity was automatically added to the bill. This is common practice when it comes to dining out at many restaurants. The patron, a pastor, wrote on the receipt, “I give God 10%, why should I give you 18%?” and scratched out the tip. The waitress’ friend found this insulting and comical. So, she took a photo and posted it to the social network, Reddit.

Her post, of course, received a lot of negative comments and took the internet by storm. As a result, the employee who posted the receipt to Reddit was fired.

The lesson comes in is how Applebee’s responded to the situation. Applebee’s decided to post the following on their Facebook page:

“We wish this situation hadn’t happened. Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy.”

reactive_proactiveNowhere in this post, did Applebee’s address the concerns of the public that had been commenting on the post. Nowhere did they address the voices of numerous other customers who were taking sides with the server who attended to the pastor’s table. This post just added fuel to a fire that was already raging.

Furthermore, in an attempt to respond to each individual comment on Facebook, Applebee’s copy and pasted the same message over and over again. This again, did not help the situation. It just continued to make things worse.

Things happen, but in this day and age it is naïve to think that things happen without anyone watching.  This situation brings to light the need to:

  • have a person dedicated to watching what is said about your organization everywhere on the internet,
  • responding to things when they happen, and
  • realizing when a non-response is the best response.

People like to feel like they are being heard. While the message might be the same to each person who posts a comment, taking the time to individualize the message or change the wording a bit makes all the difference. Keep in mind, responding to everyone individually might not be the best move for your organization. Making one blanket, detailed statement that addresses the majority of concerns, might be all that is needed to stop bad word of mouth.

Non-profit agencies don’t always have the money or the time to have a person dedicated to being the social media eyes and ears of their organization. So, what can be done instead? At least set up a Google Alert that notifies you when your agency is mentioned on the internet. Then you can decide if a response is needed.

If you cannot afford to have a person dedicated to watching what is happening on the internet full time, someone in the PR department might be able to take on some social media responsibilities here and there. Remember, you do not have to be involved in all social media networks. Find the one that is right for you and control your message there. When things happen, think about your response in a strategic manner with your whole team before responding quickly just to respond.

It’s been said, that it’s not what happens that matters, it’s how you react to it. The same rings true in social media. When things happen, take into account how your response is going to be received and decide if it is needed at all.

Has your organization faced a social media fiasco? What did you learn? If you want to share your story, leave a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!
Marissa sig

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About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on February 18, 2013, in Mondays with Marissa, nonprofit, technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Excellent analysis & advice!

  2. Thanks, justasked! Hope you found it helpful!

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