Yet another company that believes they’re operating in 1974.
You can read the full back story here, but briefly: A couple days ago, an Applebee’s waitress posted an image of a receipt (see: right) on the social network, Reddit. The receipt had a note from a customer complaining about auto-tip and how she “gives God 10%,” so “why do you [the waitress] get 18%?”
After word hit the streets about the receipt, the customer (who turned out to be a pastor) called Applebee’s and demanded the waitress be fired for violations of guest privacy due to the signature on the receipt. The waitress was promptly fired.
The character of the customer, merits of firing the employee, and logic behind tipping in our culture are all worthwhile topics, but this is a digital marketing blog, so let’s take a look at the response Applebee’s is receiving on social media (needless to say, it’s not very good).
The Backlash on Facebook and Rapid Sharing on Twitter
Within a couple hours of this story developing, the Applebee’s Facebook page saw a constant barrage of critical comments about the decision to fire the waitress.
A small screenshot of Twitter gives an indication of how quickly the story has been spreading.
How Did Applebee’s Handle the PR Situation?
Like a lot of companies who just don’t seem to “get” the power of social media and find themselves in these situations, Applebee’s disabled the Facebook page feature that allows others to write on their page’s Timeline. Then, they issued the following statement on Facebook which received some 4,000 comments within an hour (you can read the comments here).
This Is the World in Which Businesses Now Operate
To put everything in perspective, I have to go back to a classic quote from Jay Baer of The Now Revolution:
“The future of business is not in measured, scrutinized responses or carefully planned initiatives. Business will soon be about near-instantaneous response; about making the best decisions you can with the extremely limited information you have; about every customer being a reporter, and every reporter being a customer; about winning and losing customers in real time, every second of every day; and about a monumental increase in the availability of commentary about our companies. Business will be always on, always changing, always moving.”
This perfectly hammers home what Applebee’s and every other business is currently facing due to the Internet and social media. Look, ten years ago this likely would have been a non-story except for those in the local area where the events occurred. A relatively small number of people would have heard the story and an even smaller number of people would have had an avenue to voice their displeasure toward Applebee’s publicly.
But this isn’t ten years ago, it’s 2013. Every consumer now has a megaphone in their pocket and the ability to push a message to hundreds or thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Word-of-mouth marketing has never been more important than it is at this moment. In a world where “every customer is a reporter,” businesses must consider the implications of their actions and how they will play out online, especially in the social media sphere. There is far too much to be lost with even the slightest perceived misstep.
What Will the Fallout Be for Applebee’s?
Whether Applebee’s had a right or responsibility to fire the waitress according to their Employee Code of Conduct is largely irrelevant to this discussion. In the business of marketing and PR, it’s been said a billion times: perception is reality.
Judging from the comments being left on Facebook and Twitter, the overwhelming majority of people believe Applebee’s made the wrong move by firing the waitress. That is, the perception among many consumers is Applebee’s wrongfully terminated an employee at the request of a customer who was embarrassed by her hypocrisy and rudeness being made public.
Whether this perception is objectively right or wrong doesn’t matter, because, if these people hold true to their comments, they’ve marked Applebee’s off their list of “Restaurants I Will Spend My Money At.”
An event that would have been mostly a non-story a decade ago is now a threatening PR disaster. Present-day marketing, especially in the area of PR, is hardly about dissecting situations and creating the perfect message to release publicly. Instead, marketing today is about generating such positive sentiments among consumers that they’re compelled to create that perfect message for you and share it publicly.
Do you know someone who works in PR or has mentioned this Applebee’s story recently? Share this post with them and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!