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“Did I Do That?” Can’t Blame Others for Social Media Fail Anymore

The habit of finger pointing for social media fail is gaining momentum in the corporate world. The latest victims? Social media managers and agencies. Borrowing a page from the Steve Urkel PR Primer, companies such as Papa John’s , Chrysler, Coca-Cola,  ASUS computers, Celeb Boutique, NRA, and others are forgetting that following an apology with blame is a reputation killer. The “non-apology” apology is usually designed to defer any blame for litigation purposes, but Papa John’s may soon find out that the courts are not buying it either. Companies that care about their reputation would be wise to quit dodging the responsibility of bad social media posts by throwing their agencies and managers under the bus.

A sincere apology has the highest emotional favor with consumers, according to research done by authors Brocato, Peterson, and Crittenden in the Corporate Reputation Review. Justifications rate the lowest. Companies that continue to defer blame to others for actions that bear their name in social media will take a slow descent down the reputation ladder. We’re not talking about viral videos of employees stomping in lettuce bins or carelessly throwing IPads around in the back storeroom. We’re talking official communications issued from company employees. It doesn’t matter if they’re not familiar with culture in the United States (Celeb Boutique), whether they don’t read the news (NRA), or whether you were following the letter of the law (Papa John’s).

Companies that make mistakes in the media need to do two things, and it only involves six simple words:

  1. “We screwed up.”
  2. “We are sorry.”

That’s it. Nothing else. Don’t follow up with an explanation. Just tell people how you’re going to fix it. Save your explanations for the court room, if you get there. Hat tip to a post this morning by Tony Jacques reminding me that bad taste and negligence are alive and well in social media.

What do you think? The comments are your turn to speak up.

  • http://blog.missionmode.com Wayne Blankenbeckler

    I wonder if some companies are reluctant to apologize because that’s an admission of guilt that might carry with it legal liability. Sort of like saying “it was my fault” at the scene of an auto accident. Most of the time, though, I think companies don’t issue an apology because it would make them look “bad” or “weak”, a decision which often backfires on them.

    • cksyme

      I believe you are right, Wayne. There is always a tug of war between legal and leadership. But organizations like “Sorry Works” and others are producing enough data now that shows that apologies without admitting liability (it’s possible to do with the six-word formula I mentioned) have less $$ loss and quicker crisis mitigation than those who don’t. In other words, sorry works.