Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Our business environment changes every day and new challenges are around every corner. Forecasting is great but sometimes the sh!t hits the fan and damage control is your company’s only option. Applebee’s and BP show us the right way and the wrong way to save face in the eye of the public.
Control (Alt + Delete) Your Social Media
Applebee’s recently suffered what many are calling a “social media meltdown.” Two weeks ago Pastor Alois Bell of the World Deliverance Ministries Church in Granite City, Illinois dined at a St. Louis Applebee’s. She wrote a snarky remark on her receipt that read, “I give God 10% why do you get 18?” Chelsea Welch, a co-worker of the waitress waiting on Pastor Bell, took a photo of the receipt and uploaded it to Reddit and explained, “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical. I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining.” Entertaining or not, the receipt had Bell’s name and signature in full view and was in violation of Applebee’s corporate policy, so Welch was fired.
The floodgates opened and thousands of negative comments poured over Applebee’s Facebook page. In an effort to appear open and accessible Applebee’s PR staff attempted to personally respond to thousands of venomous comments. Instead of appearing open and accessible they appeared digitally illiterate and irritated, several times simply copying and pasting corporate policy in status comments. When the comments were coming in at too great of a volume they tried to “stop the bleeding” by disabling comments temporarily. This was a big mistake. It appeared as if Applebee’s was censoring followers and that is a major “dislike” for today’s online community.
While Applebee’s made major mistakes, you don’t have to. Here’s what you can learn from their situation:
Lesson #1: Have an internal policy in place before these incidents are upon you.
There’s no, “jilted Pastor” policy in the back of the Applebee’s handbook. With the internet, the possibilities are endless and viral backlash can be a second away. A general policy on how to approach a negative avalanche can be very beneficial. At the very least it gives you a starting point to respond and a sense of calm during a time of great stress.
Lesson #2: Know when to respond, if at all.
Sometimes when mob mentality has taken over it’s best to take a step back and let tempers cool. An ill-timed response can act as fuel to the fire instead of an extinguisher.
Lesson #3: Respond positively and don’t criticize.
A positive response may not do the trick, but it at least shows that you’re listening and are interested in making the situation right.
BP has remained in the news since the 2010 U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil spill and with their trial set to begin on February 25th it appears they’ll stay in the spotlight for a while longer. Whether talking about barrels of oil spilled or the fines BP is facing, the numbers are staggering. The 2013 strategy in the courtroom will be similar to the 2012 strategy in the media – stop the bleeding.
In 2012 Doug Sparkman, president of BP’s East of Rockies Fuels Value Chain revealed a $500 million plan to restore the BP image. Sparkman said the plan was built on, “Our top-quality fuel offer, improved consumer rewards programs and exclusive energy sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic Committee and Team USA.”
I visited BP’s website and tried to compare financial statements from 2011 to 2012 (disclaimer: reading elaborate financial statements gets me cross-eyed.) What I gathered from footnotes and summaries is that this fiasco continues to hit BP hard, but due to their sheer size it’s nothing they can’t bounce back from. The year-end totals are dramatically different but because 2012 accounts for spill related payouts, fines and money donated to scientific research, it’s hard to make a true comparison.
Confusing charts and tables aside, I like BP’s approach to restoring their public image.
Lesson #1: Stress your strengths
Beyond taking ownership for their mistakes and communicating a commitment to change, there isn’t much more BP can say at this point and if Applebee’s taught us anything it’s that sometimes saying less can be more. I think it’s intelligent for them to readjust the focus of their campaign to quality products.
Lesson #2: Change your look
Since the 2010 spill when one hears BP they picture an endangered bird covered in oil. BP is countering that correlation by bolstering relationships with the end-user through improved consumer rewards programs. The short attention span of the average consumer will soon be directed to cheaper gas and free car washes instead of sick seals. Much better.
Lesson #3: Positively associate yourself
The Olympics are highly visible, overall positive and global in reach. This is a good strategic move for BP to align themselves with a wholesome entity such as the Olympics.
At first it’s hard to see how these two stories are related; one happened online and the other in the ocean. But from the perspective of salvaging your company image amidst a crisis they’re very similar. Let your company learn from the mistakes of Applebee’s and benefit from the strategy of BP.