We’ve written recently about crises because, well, they’re pretty common now.
One recent article on Media Bullseye considers how to handle crises that aren’t the fault of the organization involved.
That concept is worth revisiting in light of another recent crisis that’s still unfolding.
The Red Hen, a restaurant in Washington, DC, is facing backlash, both online and in person, due to events that happened at another Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, for which they have no affiliation or connection outside of sharing the same name.
As this crisis develops, it’s a good time to rethink crises and how we deal with them, especially when they are the result of no wrongdoing from the company involved.
On a recent Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington to leave the restaurant because Sanders works for the President. Sanders tweeted about the event, sparking outrage online.
180 miles away, The Red Hen in DC had no part in the event, but people were quick to lash out at the unaffiliated restaurant.
Within hours of the incident, the average Yelp review for the DC Red Hen fell from 4.5 to 1 star. People flooded the feed with fake reviews of the restaurant, with many citing fake health code violations. When accessing their Yelp page as of writing this, a notice appeared to alert users that the page is being actively worked on due to content related to media reports.
Reviews on Google and Facebook also fell following the incident. Additionally, people started posting about making fake reservations to fill the restaurant’s schedule and prohibit actual customers from getting a table.
The Red Hen in DC took to social media to share a statement on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, explaining that they were unaffiliated and uninvolved with the incident concerning Sanders. That wasn’t enough for some users.
The Red Hen’s post on Twitter was inundated with angry responses, asking them to pull away from the franchise and to change their name and announcing their intention to boycott eating at the restaurant. Communications Director Alysa Turner started responding to comments with polite, professional explanations about the lack of connection between the two establishments, but when users persisted with negative comments, Turner took a different approach.
After her initial post and responses, Turner began adding some sass to her replies, often pairing her text with some perfectly spot-on gifs and photos. One of her best responses was the repeated posting of a screenshot of the definition for unaffiliated.
The good tweets kept coming in the days following the social media storm. A couple days after, Turner posted a gif of Michael Scott from The Office peeking through closed blinds. The gif didn’t have a caption, but it was favorited more than 1,200 times.
The day after that, she returned to the account’s typical content, posting a photo of a meal with the caption, “Hope all our new followers like food puns…this dish is our classic Mezzi Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage Ragu. It’s quite pastably as good as your nonna’s!”
What can we learn from this?
This situation and the way it was handled is an excellent case study for all communicators to take note of. In the current media climate, crises are becoming more common and social and digital media allow them to spread faster than ever. As trust in businesses, media, and communication falters, it’s important for companies to protect their reputation from crisis.
Brands should absolutely have crisis plans in place. During the planning process, ask and answer the important questions. What channels will you use to reach your audience and what kind of voice will you use? Will you respond immediately or allow some of the immediate fervor to die down? Who will be your spokespeople during the crisis? What is considered a serious crisis and what is categorized as more of a problem? How will your responses differ depending on the severity and origin of the crisis?
Even if you’ve planned for all sorts of different scenarios and the proper responses, it’s possible that something can catch you off-guard. It is unlikely that The Red Hen in DC prepared for outrage at an incident that happened at an unaffiliated restaurant with the same name.
Turner was forced to make quick decisions about how she wanted to respond. After providing the accurate facts on all relevant channels, she added some humor to her responses to alleviate some of the tension.
Her expert handling of the incident defused the situation and actually won a lot of people over. People, who prior to this may have never heard of the restaurant, complimented Turner on how she handled it. Their Twitter gained new followers and people posted their intention to come visit the restaurant for a meal.
As communicators, we can’t predict every crisis that could happen. In our current digital age, crises happen fast and spread faster. It’s important for communicators to have a plan outlined, act fast, and focus on the facts to resolve crises and maintain reputation.