Saying You’re Sorry To Save Your Social Media Hide

by on 11/15/2010 • 15 Comments | Social Media

Companies used to be banned from admitting error. In the 80s and 90s, admitting you didn’t know something was cause to be publicly slimed on television. People and brands were expected to know all and to appear infallible as a way of scooping up street cred. But, times have changed.

Oh boy, have they changed.

In the world of social media, it’s now the opposite that is true. Today we look at a brand’s ability to admit wrongdoing and to ask for forgiveness as a sign of strength, character and proof that they’re “just like us”. In the era of engagement and 24-hour Internet firestorms, owning your goofs has become a brand’s best line of defense in protecting itself from becoming publicly slimed. By admitting error and being transparent in your attempts to clean it up, brands can actually come away from public gaffes better than they came in. Unfortunately, many brands still refuse to accept this. They drag their feet hopping on the forgiveness wagon and instead get dragged over the coals in the court of public opinion. But it doesn’t have to go down like that!

Let’s take a look at three brands that were recently slimed in social media and how they could have lessened the damage if they only said “we’re sorry”.

Judith Griggs & The Copyright Follies

Our friend Rebecca Kelley did a great job breaking down all the ways that Cooks Source is doing it wrong in social media, recounting a story that’s quickly grown legs longer than Yao Ming’s. In her post, Rebecca illustrates how Cook Source continues to stab itself in the face instead of just saying “We’re sorry” and finding a way to make right and move on. Maybe they think admitting error will make them lose face or maybe they just don’t care – either way, by NOT admitting they royally messed up, Cooks Source magazine has earned itself:

  • Negative coverage in the Washington Post, Consumerist, LA Times Food Blog, MSNBC, Gawker and elsewhere. Not to mention a never-ending series of blog posts “evaluating” the situation. [Holla!]
  • A fake @CrooksSource Twitter account
  • Thousands of angry tweets
  • An insult-flooded Facebook Page they ultimately closed down.
  • A brand new Facebook page dedicated to all the other articles the magazine has stolen over the years.
  • And a hoard of other BS the brand simply doesn’t need.

All that because they can’t say they’re sorry and stop adding fuel to the fire. Forking over $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism and offering a mea culpa would have been WAY cheaper than the online reputation management specialist they’re now going to have to hire to clean up their SERPs. Cooks Source could have turned the situation around to champion for online content writers – instead they keep insulting people on their new Facebook page. Smooth.

Price Chopper’s Attempt To Hide The Body

If you live in the year 2010, you probably didn’t know that November 4th is National Men Make Dinner Day. You missed it because you live in an era where it’s common for men and women to share household chores. However, Price Chopper, a semi-popular grocery chain on the East Coast, seemingly does not. They live in the Donna Reid-era where it makes sense to tweet things like this:

@PriceChopperNY Ladies, don’t feel like cooking tonight? You’re in luck! Today is National Men Make Dinner Day!

Okay, so it’s not like told women to get off their asses and into the kitchen, but the tweet still offended plenty of people with its wording. Women cried it was sexist and men got loud wanting some recognition for actually pulling their weight around the house. All Price Chopper had to do was apologize for a somewhat questionable tweet and everyone would have moved on. Instead, they poured gasoline all over the flame by deleting the tweet.

Oh yes. They did.

Price Chopper deleted the tweet to earn the ire of pretty much everyone watching the situation. To make matters worse, this was Price Choppers second social media fail in less than two months. Back in September, a Price Chopper representative made news after attempting to get a Twitter user fired for tweeting negative comments about the store, labeling the individual “destructive” and “negative”. As you can imagine, a media fire storm ensued when a corporate was picking on a private person. Now, Price Chopper was back for Round 2 and seemingly none the wiser. High fives, guys!

Had Price Chopper apologize from the beginning, the small flame would have been immediately squashed. But when you try and hide the body, it just makes it juicier when someone finds it. Apologize and move on.

Marie Claire Prods Customers Like Fat Cows

Marie Claire is a fashion magazine that cashes in by putting skinny people on its covers and airbrushing them to make them look even skinnier. In a world where many of us have (completely justified) weight issues, you’d think Marie Claire would be extra careful of offending and objectifying readers, right? Well, if you did you’d be wrong. Dead, fat wrong.

As we mentioned last month, Marie Claire’s Maura Kelly decided to abandon common sense and use the company blog to explain how “fatties” on TV royally disgust her.

That sound you hear? That’s the sound of a reputable fashion magazine being slimed after essentially calling its overweight readers disgusting. That really happened. The result was 28,000+ emails to the editor, thousands of tweets and Facebook messages, and a whole lot of Internet fury.

Marie Claire tried to make the situation right by justifying why Maura may have written the piece (she’s a recovering anorexic), stammering that she didn’t mean to offend anyone and, ultimately, offering up a lot of excuses. What Marie Claire didn’t do was apologize. And at the end of the day, that’s really what their readers were waiting for.

And it’s what YOUR customers and/or readers are waiting for, too.

We get it. If you enter into the world of social media, at some point, you’re going to fall on your face. And that’s fine. But when your brand goofs in full public view, you need to apologize to help get people back on your side. Before all the internal strategizing and the attempts at transparency, you need to say you’re sorry and change the tone of the conversation before things escalate any further. Because if you don’t apologize, they will escalate.  And that’s something that none of the three brands remembered or took into consideration. Before you can go forward, you have to change the conversation. Just say you’re sorry. We’re all waiting.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

15 thoughts on “Saying You’re Sorry To Save Your Social Media Hide

  1. Lisa you’re not aware of the “issues” the Womens Glossy market has? at one time I remember that the high-end mags where v bad at things like firing pregnant women whilst on maternity leave.

    I was surprised that the worse employers for bullying tended to be Charity’s

  2. Sometimes saying you are sorry is more easier then to deal with the back lash of the community..I think it would have been better to suck it up and say…please forgive me we are sorry…just my thoughts..

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

    • I don’t think saying “you’re sorry” voids you having to deal with the backlash, but I don’t think you can really deal with it until you do. Until a brand apologizes and admits fault, the community is still going to be in attack mode and fighting for that apology. Once you apologize, very often the dogs get called off and people can start moving forward. I think that’s something Cooks Source (should have) learned. They haven’t apologized and instead keep ADDING fuel to the fire, and the result is that people aren’t moving on. The conversation is just getting worse.

  3. Amen.

    BUT! While it’s important to apologize, it’s also important to PAY ATTENTION, listen what your customers / readers / whoever are saying, and apologize for the right thing.

    I’ve suffered through three exceedingly bad (mostly offline) customer service nightmares in the past 30 days. In two of them (so far) I did get apologies, but it was obvious that the person writing it had not listened to what my problem, or why I was upset, or even answered with a solution to what was bothering me. I wrote a four page letter to my auto club detailing exactly why I was upset with them, and they sent me back a letter that included every service question I had ever lodged with them over the past twenty years and how they had answered it. But NOTHING on the issue that eventually made me fire them. They did not answer MY concern. They’d have been better off not making the effort at all.

    • True. You should probably have an idea of what you’re apologizing for. And if your brand isn’t smart enough to figure that out, hire someone who is. Just like in any relationship, apologizing for the WRONG issue is just going to earn you a harder smack to the face.

      • Sometimes they don’t know what to apologize for ’cause they don’t even realize they committed something stupid in first place. That’s the main problem.
        Ultimately, it comes down to the fact some brands just believe to be still living in the old corporate world of “fuckups without consequences”.

  4. Even though a lot of genuine meaning is gone with the words “I’m Sorry” they are still words that indicate a coming “greater” apology. Alone, the words mean nothing, but they signal that an explanation is coming. Saying those words immediately can soften a person up to hear what you have to say. You’re absolutely right though — not knowing what you’re apologizing about for is as bad as not apologizing at all.

  5. I’d like to mirror the sentiments that others have mentioned here about knowing what you’re apologizing for. Also, “I’m sorry” shouldn’t be considered to be a get out of jail free card, a one-off statement with no real action to back it up. Apologies shouldn’t be done simply as a means of placating an offended audience, but rather should show that you’ve actually learned something, too. A blog post outlining that you’re sorry should be fleshed out with a why you’re sorry, demonstrating a full understanding of the issues brought to light by the offence. Maybe even a donation to a related charity might be in order, too.

    Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone knows them when they make them, and not everyone puts their money where their apologizing mouth is, either. Brands who can prove that they get it, and are willing to spend time on addressing gaffs online are the ones who will have the most success at saving and continuing to build their brands online.

    Thanks for the post, Lisa!

  6. Yes, I’m continually amazed at how difficult it seems to be for both companies and (especially!) politicians to admit they’ve made a mistake. Seems the first instinct is always to deny wrongdoing, defensively justify it, or offer excuses like “didn’t mean to offend anyone”. It’s so much simpler — and more likely to earn respect — to admit you’ve made a mistake and offer a genuine, heartfelt apology. I’m baffled that people just don’t get that.

  7. If you watch “Dancing With The Stars” the perfect example of a non-apology came from Max, once of the professional dancers who lost his temper with one of the judges, aplogized and then continued to be defensive. And, the show is supposed to be light and fun. Now we have to watch conflict instead of relaxing after a hard day on our computers!
    (Kind of off-topic, but it’s been on my mind!)

  8. This just in from Cooks Source:
    “Judith Griggs, the editor and publisher of Cooks Source magazine, now says she might shutter the 13-year-old publication in wake of the commotion that erupted after it came to light that the magazine had lifted a blogger’s article.”

    http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=139575

    Maybe their problems ran deeper than their ability to manage their social media presence, but not knowing how probably accelerated this.

  9. Nicely written. I live in the area where the Price Chopper thing took place, and man, that was a firestorm. I totally missed this second one, so that was a nice catch. Customer service is failing across the board, and it’s a major shame. I think we’ve proven we’re a forgiving lot if someone gives us a chance to be.

  10. Well written. Great summary of the no-no examples. Great post. I have a personal Huggies SM fail I can share if you’re ever interested.

  11. Lisa, I think it’s up to the thinking woman to vote with her money. I would definitely not buy Marie Claire, knowing that they are insensitive to this degree regarding issues that are so sensitive for most of us. Incidentally, while I’m totally sympathetic to a recovering anorexic, I do object strongly to her standing on a ‘holier than thou’ soapbox and insulting the rest of us for our weight issues. Sigh. Being too skinny is definitely no better health-wise, aesthetically or in any other way, than being too fat.

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