The Great Applebee’s Social Media Crisis of 2013

In searching for examples of bad social media reputation management, I found too many to count. However, the one that stood out to me the most was Applebee’s, because it broke almost every rule we talked about in class.

The story of the Applebee’s crisis began in 2013, when a pastor crossed out the 18% gratuity on her receipt and wrote “I give God 10% why do you get 18.” Chelsea Welch, a coworker of the waitress that served the pastor’s table posted a photo of the receipt on Reddit. She was promptly fired from Applebee’s for violating the customer’s privacy.

The story enraged people on the Internet, and Boycott Applebee’s groups began to form on Facebook. And then it all began…

Mistake #1 – Applebee’s apology

On Facebook, Applebee’s released the statement, “We wish this situation didn’t happen…Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy.”

This began an uprising in the comments, because Applebee’s forgot about one little thing: What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. Two weeks previously, Applebee’s themselves posted a photo of a customer’s receipt. To cover it up, they deleted the photo as the Chelsea Welch event started to go viral. People were outraged that the excuse for firing Welch was the “Guest’s right to privacy,” when they broke that same rule two weeks ago.

Mistake #2 – Posting a Statement in the Comments

At 2am, Applebee’s decided it would be a good idea to defend themselves with a statement in the comments of their 17,000 comment status update, where it would be impossible to find. This enraged people even more, with one even posting “For one, you need to post that as a status update or no one is going to see it.”

Mistake #3 – Deleting Comments

Yes, the big no-no of reputation management: They deleted comments. They even hid their original status (eventually un-hiding it when people were outraged by this.) Reports say they even blocked people.

Mistake #4 – Repeating Comments

Applebee’s then begins to reply to commenters all with the same exact message, copy and pasted. Needless to say, people were further enraged by this.

Mistake #5 – Arguing with People

Then, Applebee’s begins tagging people and arguing with them that their facts are not straight, offending even more people.

Needless to say, Applebee’s really wasn’t prepared for this PR crisis, and should have had a reputation management strategy in place for social media, as well as some basic training in how to respond to social media complaints.

You can read the full play-by-play here, along with the screenshots.


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