Late last month, Cracker Barrel found itself in a bit of quandary when a single Facebook post morphed into an Internet meme sensation. All Brad wanted to know from the restaurant giant was, “Why did you fire my wife?” That question sparked a social media spectacle, inundating Cracker Barrel’s Facebook page with messages demanding an explanation for Brad’s wife’s dismissal. And the hashtag #BradsWife was born. As hilarious as the #BradsWife memes seemed to us as spectators, the reality is that this type of spectacle could happen to any company and create long lasting effects. Cracker Barrel has yet to respond. They didn’t do anything wrong. They let an employee go. It happens. Cracker Barrel is a business, so there must be some reason for the decision, even if Brad didn’t get the memo.
So, let’s say your company comes across a #BradsWife situation. How should you handle it?
Decide if it’s a crisis and whether or not to respond
The Internet response to #BradsWife was clearly humorous, with tons of people (and even other companies) trying to get in on the joke. With no evidence of any wrongdoing, people were simply entertained by the story. In this instance and those like it, the whole situation will eventually die down and blow over on its own.
Usually, people don’t air grievances via social media, because it could reflect poorly on them. They go to Glassdoor, instead, where they can be anonymous and really let loose. Some random tweets or a joke that explodes online isn’t cause for panic. Plus, the decision to fire Nanette (aka Brad’s wife) is a private matter, and if Cracker Barrel chooses to reply, it’s best done offline. An official reply isn’t necessary, and in time, a new meme elsewhere on the web will emerge and capture the spotlight.
However, situations can spiral out of control online. If, for example, a handful of grumpy posts become a full-on firestorm or employees start spreading defamatory stories about your company, then it’s time to take action. Social media teams often work in silos; so rally your HR and PR teams to help craft an appropriate response. People want to be acknowledged, and total silence could be misconstrued as apathy. And when people feel heard, they’re less inclined to continue trolling your social page. A concise and diplomatic statement can help alleviate tension.
Lastly, be aware that these types of situations often have a ripple effect. It’s always a good idea to transmit an internal communication among employees to address how the company is handling the situation.
What are your top tips for crisis management? Let us know in the comments below.