I just checked in at Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique and Bistro on Facebook. It’s been a couple of years since I was even in Scottsdale, but it seemed like an amusing virtual kind of thing to do in light of the explosion of social media attention the place is getting. And that attention ranges from gently derisive all the way to aggressively ugly.
Amy’s Baking Company Facebook page likes have increased by 2000 percent in 48 hours. These are not genuine endorsements, but attention of the horribly wrong variety. Following a two part profile on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in which the chef dumps the restaurateurs for the first time in the show’s history, the social mediasphere went wild, particularly on Reddit, Yelp and Facebook. Buzzfeed dubbed it the most epic brand meltdown ever and chronicled the volley of insults hurled between the owners and their critics.
If you watch the show, it’s immediately clear that something is going terribly wrong over at Amy’s. While it is remarkably painful to witness the very public showdown, the interlude presents a perfect opportunity to learn some lessons about crisis communication:
If you’re wrong, admit it.
Admit to being vulnerable because you are already vulnerable. Don’t ever imagine you are invincible. Tell the world you will never let this happen again (this reminds me of the best advice I ever received when getting stopped by a cop for a moving violation. A three point strategy: 1. I’m sorry 2. I’ll never do it again 3. Can you let me off with a warning, officer? However, on the internet, no one lets you off with just a warning).
Do not lash out at the trolls.
When you lash out, you escalate. If you get in a mudfight with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig likes it. Instead, take a breather. Count to ten if you must.
Treat your detractors with respect.
Validate their concerns. Never hide from or sweep criticism under the rug. It’s got a life of its own and will crawl right out from under your area carpet like a roach infestation. Remember – the cover up is always worse than the crime.
Don’t rationalize your behavior.
You’re not misunderstood; you’re a bonehead; hey, it happens. We’re human. But remember, if you’re defending, you’re losing. In a crisis situation, every question the media asks you amounts to, “But are you sorry?” And in case you’re not sure, the answer is yes you are. Show remorse, you assholes.
Ideally, over the top action. In the case of Amy’s Baking Company, they might hold a customer relations summit for all food service outlets in the Scottsdale area (OK, Amy and Sami definitely will not, but a girl can dream).
Social media is two way communication.
People are not going to agree with you 100 percent of the time. That’s OK. Long gone are the days when a PR strategy was summed up with the old adage, “Just spell our name right.” Just because Amy’s Facebook likes went from 2800 to 56,000 doesn’t mean anyone will ever eat in their restaurant again.
It’s not likely that Amy’s Baking Company will recover from this onslaught, and the entire experience, which has so far lasted about five days, is a perfect example of the viral nature of social media. The Kitchen Nightmares episode aired on Friday. By Monday, the fight was well underway on Facebook. Tuesday’s Buzzfeed article has gotten 2.5 million hits in 45 hours. Over a million of those hits came from Facebook shares. There are a whole lot of winners in this game and none of them are named Amy.