Basic Tips You Can Learn from Social Media Scandals

Gina Deveney
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For many businesses, social media is a valuable marketing tool. When it is not used properly, however, social media can lead to scandal. By studying recent scandals, you can gain insight and valuable social media tips that will help keep your business safe.

One of the most publicized scandals of 2013 was associated with the restaurant chain Applebee's. A server, irritated at a note that a customer wrote on her receipt, took a picture of the receipt and posted it online. The photo spread quickly around the Internet, eventually going viral. Applebee's made an effort to resolve the situation but only succeeded in bringing further negative attention to the brand.

As most media professionals are aware, Applebee's situation could have been easily avoided by following one of the most important social media tips for businesses: create a clear social media policy that helps employees understand how they can and cannot use social media in relation to the workplace. Most successful policies prohibit employees from posting anything work-related on their personal social media accounts. A social media policy is particularly important in fields that involve customer confidentiality, like health care or law.

Many social media scandals, including the Applebee's incident, involve poor media management on the part of the brand. As a media or communications professional, you have some level of control over how your business responds to customer complaints. When it comes to avoiding scandal, one of the most crucial social media tips is to craft careful, professional responses that will not add fuel to the fire. In general, the best way to deescalate a situation is to accept responsibility, apologize, and explain how you will resolve the situation.

As numerous brands have learned, the most effective social media tips are those that advise communications professionals to act quickly in the cases of a crisis. According to a recent story from CNBC, the retail giant Walmart did just that in a scandal that involved the quality of meat solid at its Chinese stores. When it was discovered that the store's donkey meat—a popular snack in China—contained DNA from other animals, including fox, the company released an immediate apology and promised action. As a result, social media fury was kept in check.

For communications managers, the quick-action strategy is crucial. By issuing a statement as soon as possible, you can give customers answers and satisfy their concerns. As you do so, be careful to follow another of the most popular social media tips: respond carefully. Learn from Applebee's mistakes; though the company posted an apology for the photo of the receipt, the social media managers failed to examine the rest of the company's images. The company stated that customer privacy was paramount, but another photo on the page clearly showed a patron's name. Customers caught on quickly, causing more embarrassment for the brand.

In the age of social media, scandals can arise quickly and cause lasting damage for companies. By learning from other companies' misfortunes and researching social media tips, you can prevent scandals in your own business.


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