What to do when it all goes wrong

Monitoring Online Reputation

Every brand, whether a website or an official business, wants to promote a positive image 100% of the time. When you launch a marketing campaign, you are operating with that goal in mind. Crafting and maintaining a pristine image is just as important as improving visibility and converting leads into sales.

The problem is that no brand can always look good. Scandals can be sparked from the tiniest of infractions made by a single member of staff at any level. When that mistake is not properly dealt with, it can spiral out of control faster than you ever imagined. From then on, it can just get worse and worse by the moment.

Amazingly, some brands in the past have shown themselves to be completely incapable of dealing with a problem in a timely and professional manner.


In early 2013, a waitress at an Applebees in St. Louis, Missouri posted an image of a receipt on a popular subreddit. The woman she had waited on, a pastor for a small, local church, had written on the receipt “I give God 10%, why should you get 18%?” instead of tipping. Reddit responded with outrage, and the image spread. The pastor complained, and the server was fired.

Already, this was a bad move on Applebees’ part, because the receipt had gone viral. Hence how the customer found out about it in the first place. People began coming to the waitress’s defense, and any professional marketing expert would see the problem increasing, not resolving. The situation hit breaking point when the restaurant chain posted a receipt themselves that had the same amount of personal customer information. The very reason they had fired the employee in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, this whipped an already angry customer base into a veritable frenzy. They pointed out the hypocrisy in the chain showing a receipt with a positive customer experience, but terminating an employee for the exact same infraction. The comments on the page became more vicious.

Yet, Applebees continued to allow someone untrained in handling PR disasters to monitor their Facebook page. The chain was writing badly constructed, grammatically incorrect and argumentative responses to critical comments. Then, they did something unforgivable in the social media world: they began to delete comments and block people from their page

This is the perfect example of how not to deal with a PR crisis. Not only did they behave in an entirely unprofessional manner, but there was nothing in place to help deal with a scandal. It seems that the higher ups were not even aware of the magnitude of the problem. The chain still hasn’t recovered from the incident.

Looking at this case, as well as others like the United Airlines guitar debacle, and the Dominos Pizza viral video, a picture starts to form. It becomes obvious how a situation should be dealt with.

These are the steps to take to put out a flame before it becomes a forest fire.

Monitor Reputation

First, you need to know something has happened the moment it occurs. If a video is posted that affects your brand in a negative way, you need to know about before it reaches viral status. This also applies to social media updates, complaints on review sites, damaging blog posts, and media reports. Catching it early is always the best scenario.

You should be engaging in regular reputation management for this reason. Which means monitoring your brand from multiple sources. Google Alerts and Google’s Me On The Web are a good place to start.

For social media monitoring, try Hootsuite, Trackur or a similar dashboard for full awareness. Then supplement that with Social Mention, WhosTalkin or others.

But monitoring shouldn’t stop there. More thorough examination should be given, such as autocorrect generation with UberSuggest, and keeping an eye on customer experiences using complaint search.

Act Quickly

So many problems can be avoided by simply acting as quickly as possible. That falls in with reputation management and always being aware. But it goes beyond that, as well. Your staff should include people who are experienced in quick response to PR disasters.

If you are outsourcing marketing to a firm, double check with them that they fit this bill. Ask them about their experiences in the past with putting out PR fires, and if they have ever had an instance of a brand being negatively impacted by their company.

When you do find yourself facing a scandal, don’t be wishy washy on how you handle it. Take responsibility from the very start, apologize, and then continue to deal with it.

Begin Burying The Problem

A single misstep can completely overthrow the rankings and SEO you have so carefully crafted. The moment something occurs, you should begin trying to bury the search results. The aim is to have the top ten results mentioning your brand under your control. Which means getting past the many blogs and other sources that will be talking about the blunder.

To bury bad search results, make a list of related phrases and keywords that are related to the incident, including your brand name. Next, start making profiles on high traffic websites using those keywords and phrases. Search Engine People has a great article that lists more than fifty sites for this purpose that bring in great results. Though the list is by no means exhaustive.

You can’t get rid of the negative results, but you can banish them from the front page. Since the average user doesn’t go beyond the first page in Google, they might as well be invisible.

Always Act Preemptively

What is even better than all of the advice above? Making sure these disasters don’t happen in the first place. You can’t control everyone and everything, unfortunately. People make mistakes, someone complains, sometimes even straight up lies are told that are hard to disprove. You may even do something stupid and ill advised yourself that snowballs into an all-out avalanche.

Having contingencies in place for any eventuality will ensure that when the worse happens, the damage is more manageable. You can do everything mentioned in this article starting today, and it will have a major affect on the future. Even burying negative mentions can be done now, just in case.

You should also take this opportunity to train your staff (and yourself!) to deal with PR problems and social media. Get together to discuss tactics, and to look over case studies where companies reacted well or badly to a situation. Give them all a chance to work with social media so they are familiar with utilizing it for positive brand image.


Managing a marketing blunder isn’t actually as difficult as it sounds. However, that doesn’t stop a lot of brands from doing it wrong. Preparation, planning and knowledge are the three necessary tools to keep a small mistake from turning into a catastrophe.

Author Bio:  Allan Watson is an SEO expert, who also oversees the content creation at Whoishostingthis.com.In his free time, he loves writing about things, he loves most and also enjoys reading up on advancements in the world of science.


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