When you are at the centre of a self-inflicted social media storm you need to get your apology right.
As with any crisis situation, you need to show your customers and followers you understand the severity of what has happened and you are taking action to ensure it will not happen again.
But saying ‘sorry’ also needs to show genuine remorse.
One organisation which does not appear to have paid attention to this particular social media lesson is London Dungeon.
The attraction found itself at the centre of a Twitter storm and Facebook backlash last week when a ‘Dark valentine’ campaign backfired amid allegations of sexism and misogyny.
We’re not comfortable including the exact details of all the posts in this blog, but to give you a flavour of what was said, one read: “Jack the Ripper just messaged. He wants to Netflix and kill” while another said “I love a girl that’s a good eater. Female translation: you’re fat.”
As is so often the case, the social media storm became a mainstream media story. Headlines included:
London Dungeon apologises for ‘upsetting tweets' BBC News
London Dungeon apologises for ‘dead prostitute’ Valentine’s Day joke Daily Telegraph
London Dungeon Tweet Apology for Dark Valentine’s Day Campaign After Furious Twitter Backlash Huffington Post
London Dungeon faces angry backlash over string of sexist Valentine’s Day jokes on social media Evening Standard
With headlines likes this it is fair to say the social media campaign had become a PR disaster.
To its credit the attraction quickly deleted the posts from its channels following the outcry and they were replaced with an apology – something we would always recommend on our social media and crisis communication training courses.
But in this case the apology was poorly thought out.
It said: “We recognise that we’ve upset some people and for that we’re very sorry” and featured an image in the same style as the ‘Dark Valentine’ campaign with the words ‘WE’RE SORRY’.
We recognise that we’ve upset some people and for that we’re very sorry. pic.twitter.com/RW8d4VRC8D— The London Dungeon (@Dungeon_London) February 15, 2017
Using the same campaign branding was a basic social media error which ensured the apology did not appear genuine. In fact it just looked like an extension of the campaign so many had found offensive rather than a complaint which was being taken seriously.
The wording above the image also failed to convey genuine remorse. Including the phrase ‘some people’ feels like an attempt to play down the numbers who found the posts offensive and suggests a lack of understanding of the severity of the situation.
And Twitter users were far from impressed:
@Dungeon_London this is a shite response— Joe (@goulcher) February 15, 2017
Obviously there are character restrictions on Twitter, but a link could have been included to a more detailed apology like the one that was used in response to the mainstream media coverage.
That apology was much more detailed, but again it felt like it was being issued through gritted teeth. No ‘we are deeply sorry’ or ‘we deeply regret, just ‘we apologise’.
At least it said ‘many’ people found the post inappropriate, but finishing with ‘we apologise for any offence caused’ feels like a clichéd line issued with little thought and doesn’t imply any real regret – almost like a train operator ‘apologising for the inconvenience’ every time your train is delayed.
This reputational crisis needed something stronger and to recap here are five key points to ensure you get your social media apology right.
1. Remove the offending posts quickly
2. Apologise promptly and ensure it looks like a genuine apology
3. Don't try to down play the significance of the issue
4. Ensure the apology does not look like marketing material
5. Show you CARE. This is an acronym we use on out training courses and it mean apologies need to show Compassion, Action, Reassurance and Examples - the examples should be used to reinforce the 'C', 'A' and 'R' parts of the acronym.
Download our FREE eBook to find out more about planning for a crisis. It includes a guide to managing social media during a crisis.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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