December 12, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Fried Chicken – Chick-Fil-A’s PR Crisis

Fried Chicken – Chick-Fil-A’s PR Crisis

If we are all going to rush to judgment, I hope we’re at least burning some calories while we are doing so. The Chick-Fil-A fiasco took a turn for the absurd today, with allegations that someone on the PR team set up a fake account and started to push back on the Muppets toys being pulled from stores.

There’s background on this issue all over the Internet, and that isn’t the point of this post, so if you need the 411 on what led up to this Google: Chick Fil A Muppets Gay Marriage and read a few items from the reputable news sources that come up. Assuming you are all caught up, now the PR/oddity.

At some point today, a screenshot of a Facebook exchange started making the rounds, and was picked up by Gizmodo and Mashable, with headlines blaring “Chick-Fil-A Accused of Setting up Fake Facebook Account.”

There are a few issues here. In no particular order:

  • Was a fake account set up?
  • If a fake account was set up, was it set up by a member of the Chick-Fil-A PR team?
  • If a fake account was set up, and it wasn’t a member of the PR team, was it even an employee or someone close to Chick-Fil-A?
  • If the answers to the three above questions are all no, why are we even discussing this?

The Fake Account

Although this seemed to be a given—that a fake account was indeed set up—Forbes had the following interesting footnote in the article they wrote on this debacle, which stated:

“It looks like the screenshot of the conversation above was originally posted on Reddit and must have been posted by Robert R. — given his ability to “remove preview.” It’s notable that no one who has written about this has linked to the original Facebook exchange; they’ve simply included this image in their posts.”

So, the Facebook conversation that included the purportedly fake account has been verified by exactly one person. The rest of the coverage of this exchange has all linked back to that screenshot. This is not particularly damning, but is, I think cause for a pause.

The Chick-Fil-A PR Team

Almost all of the coverage I’ve seen on this appears to assume it was someone on the PR team who did this. In part, this is because of a combination of previous behavior of bad actors of brands and a lamentable reputation on the part of PR pros as being spin doctors (and, basically, liars). However, I have yet to see one shred of evidence put forth by anyone that actually points to the PR team.

This is a major brand, and social media (and its mistakes) have been around for a while—the idea of a professional team doing something as incredibly dumb as setting up a fake account, while not impossible, is in my opinion fairly remote. When we see brands doing dumb things on Facebook, it usually amounts to one of the following scenarios: they are either deleting comments they don’t like, or, they are ignoring the problem and hoping it will just die down organically. This doesn’t fit either major category of Facebook Brand Myopia Syndrome. Additionally, Chick-Fil-A has categorically denied they set up a fake account.

The “Chick-Fil-A Once Removed” Scenario

This is a bit more plausible in my opinion. It is within the realm of possibility that someone dedicated to the brand—perhaps even someone with a connection to it, like a franchisee or line worker, or a spouse of someone employed by Chick-Fil-A—would feel as though the brand was being unfairly attacked and could, conceivably, think this was a way to address the onslaught of criticism. (It isn’t, of course.) But would someone sitting at home, whose household income is dependent on the brand, feel like this is a way to get a message out? If a fake account was indeed set up, this is the scenario I’d lean toward believing. It could quite simply be a well-intentioned but seriously misguided attempt to address the issue.

Why are we discussing this?

True to Internet Kerfuffledom, we are in the midst of a standard “accuse first verify later” social media sh!tstorm. Until there is evidence that more than one person saw this exchange on Facebook, this is a dead issue as far as I’m concerned. It’s too easy to photoshop or spoof sites. Once we have that, then we need to move on to addressing the other issues.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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4 Comments

  1. nixon.barbara@gmail.com'
    Anonymous

    Thank you, Jen, for your level-headed response to this kerfuffle. As I was driving to my conference, I was crafting a post for my own blog; now I don’t have to. You hit all the salient I had running through my head.

    I am just blown away at number of people who took that single screen shot as “proof.”

  2. Matt Hames

    I think you’re right in asking “why are we talking about this?”. And the answer seems to be thatChick Fil A is making the classic mistake of sitting back and hoping it blows over. So every little mention, right or wrong, keeps the story alive like how Chick Fil A claimed to pull the Jim Henson toys because of a potential hazard to children.  Again, a lot of disinformation, and no clarification (that I can see) on their website. 

    This is more than a social media story, it is the story of how to measure the storm when your CEO takes a stand that will alienate customers. Not sure the right answer to that one. But I am sure more blog posts will be written about it. 

    1. jzingsheim@customscoop.com'
      Jen Zingsheim

      I agree that pulling the toys was a big mistake, and they should clarify that–but, was it corporate that pulled the toys, or just one or two franchises? There definitely needs to be more information from CFA on this.

      And yes, it will be interesting to see how this all falls out with respect to the statements made by Cathy. Their fans are loyal. It could well serve as a boost to their bottom line, at least in the short term.

  3. judy.gombita@gmail.com'
    Judy Gombita

    I don’t believe this (so-called) “PR Crisis” swam its way up to Canadian mainstream media.

    We do not have this chain. And, of course, gay marriages are a non-issue.

    Good to see you taking the level-headed approach, Jen, amongst all of the minnowing reactions and “opinionating.” 🙂

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