Business, Social Media, and the Subtle Art of Apologizing

by Jeff Wiener on December 3, 2014

While social media and the online world have changed our lives in countless ways, arguably the biggest change is that such a digital existence now allows us to bypass those helpful social filters most of us employ when interacting in the real world, as social networks like Twitter and Facebook provide a soapbox from which we can instantaneously post questionable comments, pictures, or links in the digital realm that we would never think of doing in the normal course of our interactions in the real world.

Although I’m sure we as individuals have all made our own embarrassing social media mistakes, it’s a problem the enterprise sector is certainly not immune to as well, for as more and more companies take to social media to advertise their brands the more embarrassing and damaging foot-in-mouth mistakes that are made.

Consider the unfortunate case of DiGiorno’s pizza, who, during a recent Twitter campaign regarding domestic violence motivated by the NFL’s ongoing scandals, using the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, callously commented, “You had pizza. #WhyIStayed.” While admittedly DiGiorno had no intent to insult, apparently not fully understanding what the hashtag referred to, such remarks ignited a firestorm of controversy and served as evidence for the need of the latest inexorable tool of the digital age: a sincere, well-crafted apology.

Businesses make mistakes, there’s nothing new about that, but the advent of the digital age and the rise of enterprise social networking has seemingly made those mistakes more immediate and, often times, far more embarrassing, as off-the-cuff tweets and Facebook posts have had deleterious effects on more than one brand.

Now granted it may seem callous and insincere to even discuss the art of crafting a sincere apology, but as part of an effective customer relationship strategy, its something that every company must consider, develop, and deliver, not simply as a way of mitigating damage to the brand or reducing associated embarrassment, but as a genuine way of recognizing mistakes made and sincerely working to make them right.

“Social media apologies are important, as brands don’t want to seem impervious to their mistakes,” said Jarone Ashkenazi, account manager with PMBC Group.

“When a mistake arises, the issue is amplified online, so brands must come up with a dignified and appropriate apology for mistakes they make,” he told CRM Buyer. “Furthermore, a social media apology is important because it will protect the brand’s image.”

The simple fact is that from a business perspective, apologies, no matter how sincere, need to be well thought out, for as DiGiorno discovered, overly effusive, unending apologizing is just as damaging (even when they’re sincere) as if the company stubbornly ignored the problem altogether.

So crafting an effective apology has a number of important Do’s and Don’ts: First, acknowledge what you did wrong, don’t beat around the bush. Second, articulate a plan to repair the mistake and avoid it moving forward. Third, address the mistake on the same medium it was made—if it was made on Twitter, respond with a corrective tweet. Fourth, keep it short and sweet.

There’s nothing worse than extended apologies or apologizing too much, something far too easy to do on social media in its own right. What companies need to do is craft protocols for how to respond to such instant social media mistakes, protocols that include sincerity, succinctness, and genuine correction, anything less will only serve to exacerbate the mistake.

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