December 8, 2023

Calm down, it’s probably not as bad as you think

By Lauren Garetto

Crisis. Something no business wants to encounter, and something we all hope they try to avoid. But do businesses really do their best to avoid them?

Constantly we see social media campaigns go wrong like McDonald’s, or offensive wording like Bud Light, or even insensitive pictures like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and we’re all left wondering why this happens.

How is it that multimillion dollar companies with so many employees are able to make such rookie mistakes?

Well, it happens. And even if we don’t know exactly why, we must understand that although it may seem like a crisis, it’s probably not – you can fix this.

Melissa Agnes tells us that situations you may think are a crisis are usually not as bad as you think. In her words, “A crisis is a negative event or incident that risks threatening the organizations reputation for the long term.” If it is not a long term threat then it is simply an issue.

Key word there is “long term.” Most mistakes will be forgotten, and the company can move on and hopefully learn from it. But don’t get too comfortable, if the issue is not taken care of properly you risk turning it into a crisis.
Here’s some tips from Melissa, and myself, that will keep your business from running into a crisis.

State that you are aware of the incident.
Acknowledge that you know there is a problem. Do this on whatever platform that your business gets the most attention on.

State what you are doing about the incident.
Simply knowing something is wrong won’t do your situation justice. Give your audience specifics about what you are doing to make the problem better. This should include names of employees who are working on the problem to make the situation feel more personal.

Message needs to be written with sincere compassion.
Often times an issue spurs from someone being personally offended or it is a topic that is bigger than ones self, and for that reason sincerity is crucial. Make your audience believe that fixing the problem is the number one thing at the top of your agenda – as well it should be.

Say that you will come back with more and say when and where.
Giving your audience a specific time and place (link) to look for results ensures that there is something being done about the situation in a timely manner. In addition, this holds you and your coworkers accountable for getting things done.
Side note: If the time frame that you originally set will not work, it’s OK to say that you are still working, but keep giving updates. People will expect answers eventually, but they don’t expect them right away.

Kitchen Aid is a great example of this model.
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If you’re not avoiding drama in your businesses, then please at least make sure to handle it properly. All people expect from you is communication, and you better give it to them!

Twitter: @laurengaretto

18 thoughts on “Calm down, it’s probably not as bad as you think

  1. Lauren,
    Your article was very informative and helpful! In terms of prevention, what do you think are some steps businesses should take to keep themselves out of trouble? Do you think companies should allow their employees to be autonomous when posting on social media or making decisions or do you think it should be a team effort?

    1. Thank you!
      I think staying out of trouble has more than one answer to it. I think there needs to be a culture where the employees are trusted, but are also educated on the companies policies and know the values of the company too. If you employ people with values that align with your company, there should be less worry that they will post something that may not look good to the public.
      In addition, I think all companies need to pull themselves away from their idea from time to time and really think about what they are doing. It’s easy to get wrapped up in an idea, so taking a step back and asking yourself “what’s the worst possible thing that could happen” could save your butt from time to time.

  2. Lauren,

    This is a very helpful and informative article by pulling out the key word – “long term” – about crisis. People are afraid of crisis because we all know even a small crisis may shut down a huge business if managed inappropriately. It’s a helpful and smart point to notify that it’s way more important to take care of issue and crisis properly. The situation will probably turn out a completely different result. It’s impossible to avoid an issue and a crisis. If you do know how to take care of it, you are safe.
    Thanks for sharing such a smart and key point!

  3. Lauren,

    I think you raised some great points about the distinction between an issue and a crisis. It is important for companies to know how to respond to both scenarios, and to keep their mishap from growing into something larger. However, what happens when the problem/ crisis is made into a joke? Do you think it is better for the company to ignore the mockery, or is it better to acknowledge the mockery’s existence?

    -Katie McGuigan

    1. Katie, I’m glad you brought up this point because I was thinking about this when writing the post. I think that if a situation is dealt with properly then the chances of someone making it into a joke will decrease. When looking at BP, they almost asked for someone to do that because they had so little communication with their audience. If the joke is harmless, let it happen. No need to make a fuss over something small. But if it might jeopardize the long term credibility of your company, there should definitely be effort coming from the company to address and stop the jokes.

  4. Do you feel that there is any training that can be completed by social media professionals to avoid issues like this? Or any trainings that companies can offer for their staff members?

    1. Great question!
      I think that companies should always implement asking the question “what’s the worst thing that could happen” to any campaign seen by the public. If employees are trained to ask themselves that, it gives them the opportunity to take themselves out of the campaign an possibly catch a mistake they might make.

  5. Gini Dietrich talked a little bit about this in one of my other classes while she was here lecturing a few weeks back. Her biggest advice when it came to creating new campaigns and not having them go south like the McDonald’s and Budlight ones did is to play it out. Play out every possible wrong turn that the campaign may take. For those of us that are about to graduate and go into a communications field, if situations come up where a client wants to follow through with a campaign or even a social media post that you think could have a negative response, say something! Do not be afraid as the new person to say “I could see this going wrong and here are the reasons why.” Play. It. Out. Every possible scenario both good and bad, and then rookie mistakes like this won’t happen. We all have to bear in mind that many of the people working in these industries grew up in a time where there was not much focus on being politically correct. Too many of them do not realize how offensive some of these kinds of campaigns actually are.

  6. Lauren,
    This is very well written and straight to the point! There is a big difference between a crisis and an issue and I feel like timing is one of the most important things to consider when dealing with both of those. One thing that keeps coming to my mind every time we discuss crisis management and transparency is just, businesses should plan to be good communicators. If you think about it, you always go to your friend who you know is trustworthy and patient for advice, I feel like its the same way for businesses. Simply be good communicators with the traits that you look for in an individual i.e. trustworthy, thorough, patient, honest, responsive, etc. If businesses are wanting to be more on the level of human interactions and engaging that way, then it would make sense that they try and encapsulate the best traits of human interaction.

  7. Comment By: Drew Forrest


    The most crucial part of your post lies between the lines. Something you note is expressing sincere compassion. Empathy is what will connect your company to your constituents. They care that you care. All you have to do is say you’re sorry and what you are going to do to fix it. These easy steps can make a negative into a positive so quickly. Be honest and it will only benefit you.

  8. Lauren,

    Great post! I think it is critical for companies to understand the difference between an issue and a crisis. I think it is also important for companies to really play out every scenario that could happen before launching a brand new campaign or posting on social media. Melissa Agnes talked about the British Airways campaign as an example of a company knowing about a recent tragedy and simply not paying attention to what they were about to release. If they had played this out they could have avoided a lot of negative backlash.

  9. Great post! Thank you for breaking down her presentation in a way that anyone can understand.

    You brought up a great question, “How is it that multimillion dollar companies with so many employees are able to make such rookie mistakes?”

    I would also like to add, why do such mistakes often occur? Too many heads in the department that are only contributing noise? As Kira suggested, Is it because of lack of employee training? If so, would a training for this actually help prevent such mistakes? I mean there is culture competency training but we all still see many race related issues/crisis on social media.

    1. Great point!
      I think that plain and simple is people just need to be trained on how to remove themselves from the situation and really look at what they are putting out to the world. Ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Training your employees to always ask this should reduce the possibility of issues occurring. In addition, have a culture where people can speak up and voice their opinions. Who knows, the intern in the back could have caught a mistake that no one else did.

  10. This is a great post, Lauren. I know that whenever something goes wrong I can over think a situation and make it seem worse in my head. Of course it’s best to face a situation head-on and keep people as informed as possible. Giving vague information may be necessary at times, but as long as the lines of communications are not completely disconnected the situation can most likely be salvaged. Your tips from class are a great way to clearly think through a problem step-by-step. Well done!

  11. Great points! Especially about sincerity and letting the public know what you’re doing about it. I would also add that if the incident was social media related, they should address the problem on the platform it occurred on.

  12. I really agree with everything you posted here.

    While the internet may be super quick to attack, these attacks are also short lived, as a new attack surely will follow soon. The best friend of company who has screwed up, is the company who screws up next.

  13. Love the post, Lauren. The tips by Melissa for addressing a crisis were a great addition. I definitely agree that posts in response to the situation should be compassionate and sincere. This paired with an apology and some type of action statement on what they are doing to reconcile the situation usually serves as a good solution. I think Digorno pizza did a good job at recovering from a potential crisis when they horribly misinterpreted the #WhyIStayed hashtag. Often I feel like these “crises” could have been avoided completely had people just taken the time to do their research or double check before posting.

  14. Alexander Cano

    Alas, if you’re expected to tweet about anything in real time, you damn well better apologize in real time as well. Most of the time, I think “social media outrage” is pointless, overstated, misguided, or all of the above. But on the flipslide, it can kinda serve as a “social acceptance barometer.” Things we do not all agree with will be seeked out and shot down, even if a certain number of people think whatever is going on is acceptable.

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