With social media today, within a matter of minutes, hundreds upon thousands of people can view another person’s or company’s opinion and each reply with their own. The greatest achievements or the largest blunders can be shown in seconds and never erased, no matter how hard a person tries. This is the power – and risk – of social media.

“Going viral” is one of the most powerful tools in the age of digital marketing. However, companies can take an enormous risk when they try to engage their consumers. Take DiGiorno Pizza and their blunder with the hashtag #WhyIStayed. The short version: DiGiorno tweeted “#WhyIStayed You had Pizza.” At the time, women had taken to twitter to discuss why they had stayed in abusive relationships. DiGiorno deleted the tweet, issued an apology saying they did not know what the hashtag meant  and responded to each person, who tweeted an offended reply, a personal and sincere apology. That one mistake, whether it was really unintentional or a terrible attempt to promote their brand, could have been fatal for the company, but they handled it well and came back looking better than most companies in similar situations. That was a simple blunder, but the way Applebee’s handled their social media tragedy would make anyone cringe in digital agony.

Considered by many as a prime example of the worst way to handle a social/PR fiasco, Applebee’s fired a waitress for posting a picture of a customer’s negative receipt. Many people took to the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages, demanding the company rehire the waitress. In response, Applebee’s ignored and deleted user’s comments or blocked users. Once hiding failed they resorted to a copy and paste response which made the digital hulk even angrier. Finally, when all of the other worst possible options failed, Applebee’s social media team argued with the commenters. Here is an article describing the whole thing in all of its terrible glory (with pictures): http://tinyurl.com/pv2lmdf

This nightmare of a situation could have been avoided had Applebees’s been consistent in its behavior. They had previously posted a receipt online and nobody got fired. If you haven’t fired someone in the past for the same behavior then it’s not right to do so later on. They also could have engaged many of the angry social users and got on a positive and personal level with them, like DiGiorno did. This would not have stopped the bombardment, but it would have been the start to calm the digital hurricane and shown an earnest attempt to make good on their actions. Next, they could have posted statuses at critical times during the day to show that they care about the situation and understand that it is not going away. Most importantly, don’t delete comments or block users. Engage them and show that their voice is heard, unless they are offensive and posting things that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

This titan known as social can bury a company with one mistake or, if done well, can elevate a company to a brand status known only to select elite. What is your take on the importance of social? What, in your opinion, are the best practices for online presence? Have any social media success stories? Or horror stories? We would love to hear about them.


  • Social media is a powerful thing.
  • Nothing is ever truly “deleted” online.
  • Research before posting.
  • If you make a mistake, admit to it and apologize.
  • Be personal and be sincere in your replies.
  • Don’t ignore users. Acknowledge them and respond to them.
  • Don’t argue with users.