Last Tuesday, the day after the Boston Marathon bombings, the food website Epicurious—which has 388,000 Twitter followers—created a social media crisis by sending out the following tweets, which were later deleted:
I wrote about the incident in more detail last week BUT I’m interested in dissecting Epicurious’ crisis management response over the past six days.
Epicurious’ first response to the social media uproar was to send a stream of tweets, all saying the same thing—it stated that the tweets “seemed” insensitive. These, too, have been deleted:
The choice of the word “seemed” appeared to shift the burden of blame onto the website’s overly sensitive readers, adding fuel to the social media flames. So on Tuesday afternoon, Epicurious went one step further:
Our food tweets this morning were, frankly, insensitive. Our deepest, sincere apologies.
— epicurious (@epicurious) April 16, 2013
Then, nothing. Silence. Six days passed without another word. No longer statements. No interactions with angry fans. No explanations of what went wrong. No commitment to getting it right in the future. No pledge to create policies preventing this from occurring in the future.
On Monday morning, six days later, Epicurious resumed its Twitter stream as if nothing had happened:
— epicurious (@epicurious) April 22, 2013
All of this raises a question: Did Epicurious do the right thing by going silent, waiting for the storm to pass, and then resuming when it had (mostly) blown over?
Let me make the case for their head-in-sand strategy. Executives at Conde Nast (Epicurious’ parent company) may have rightly calculated that these types of social media controversies are often short-lived and pass quickly. By waiting until the online fervor had subsided, they could just ride the wave to a moment of relative safety and continue business as usual. Plus, by making a longer statement, they would have just extended the news cycle as the statement itself would spawn new stories.
But that case, while partially true, is also nonsense.
Imagine if Epicurious had come out with a longer statement on Tuesday, such as:
“The tweets we sent this morning were incredibly insensitive. We’re devastated that in a moment of national tragedy, our actions made matters worse instead of better. We are all motivated by a mission of helping to improve people’s lives through healthier eating—and today, we let our readers down.
“Please know that we take this extremely seriously and will take every necessary step to make sure this never happens again. In the meantime, our thoughts are with the people of Boston. We’re going to stop tweeting for the next week because we think it’s appropriate to let some time pass before resuming business as usual. In the meantime, on behalf of all of us at Epicurious, we are very, very sorry.”
Such a statement would have been added to every news and blog story about the incident, including mine, showing a brand that screwed up but took full accountability for its actions.
Instead, they said nothing. And that says to me that they learned nothing from this incident about the right way to use social media.
Brad Phillips is author of the new book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where this story first appeared.