If you speak with companies or organizations who have faced a social media crisis, many of them will tell you that one of the biggest lessons they’ve learned was that saying they’re sorry and being honest about the mistakes they’d made allowed them to reach a turning point within the crisis.
When I interviewed Frederic Gonzalo, VP of marketing for Le Massif, he said that one of the biggest things Le Massif learned from their social media crisis back in 2011 was:
“The power of an apology – we realized it, and we also realized that it should have come earlier.”
The “it should have come earlier” part is a lesson that many brands learn the hard way. Too often it takes brands much too long to realize this simple truth.
So what’s stopping them?
If apologizing and owning up to the mistake has a track record of helping brands overcome a social media crisis, why wait so long and resist so hard in so many cases?
The lawyer’s point of view:
Many lawyers will tell you that flat out saying you’re sorry is a legal risk. Instead, they’ll advice you to say something more along the lines of “it’s regrettable”, allowing you to sound sincere while not putting you at legal risk.
However, saying the situation is “regrettable” is in no way apologizing for whatever circumstances launched your brand into the crisis in the first place. The fact is that your customers and fans want to feel as though you sincerely care and acknowledge what they’ve been put through. Replacing “I’m sorry” with “it’s regrettable” will not give them that reassurance.
The blow to the ego
Many simply have a hard time admitting that they’re human and have made a mistake. This is regrettable since the longer it takes you to acknowledge and admit to your mistake, the more repercussions your brand will see as an outcome of the crisis.
One of the great things about social media is that it allows you to humanize your brand, no matter its size. In fact, your customers want to meet the humans behind your brand, and they understand that humans make mistakes. All they want is to know that you’re sincerely sorry for the mistake you’ve made and that you’ve learned from it. The sooner you’re able to show them this, the better it is for your company or organization.
Not convinced? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each strategy
Saying “It’s regrettable”
- It puts your lawyers at ease knowing that you aren’t directly admitting your guilt.
- It may make you feel as though you’re in control.
- It is not an apology and your upset customers and fans will not see it as one.
- It will not help you regain control of the social media crisis (which is at risk of going viral)
- It does not connect you closer to your customers and fans, so as to say that it is not allowing you to focus on building a lasting relationship with them.
Saying “I’m sorry”
- It acknowledges that you realize you’ve made a mistake and will hopefully learn from it.
- It makes your customers and fans feel cared about – connecting you closer to them for the long term.
- It leads to forgiveness.
- Best case scenario: it can help you stop a social media crisis in its tracks.
- It humanizes your brand and connects you closer to your customers and fans.
- It acknowledges that you’ve done something wrong.
- It will make your lawyers feel uneasy.
- It puts you at risk of a lawsuit (because you weren’t already there to begin with!)
The bottom line
Basically you have two options: you can choose to say you’re sorry, mean it and learn from the incident or mistake; or you can choose to play it safe, attempt to not incriminate yourself and put your brand at even more risk.
Next time you make a mistake (because let’s face it, your brand is run by humans so it’s bound to happen), and you’re faced with this decision, decide whether it’s more important to please your lawyers or to please your customers and fans. What are the possibilities that a false apology offers you? What are the opportunities that a sincere apology offers you? What does your pro/con list look like?
The fact of the matter is that your customers and fans want to connect with you and forgive you more than they want to run off and press charges against you. Dave Carroll says it beautifully in his new book, United Breaks Guitars, The Power of One Voice in the Age of Social Media:
“Sometimes saying you’re sorry is not only the right thing to do, but also the least expensive.”
Have you prepared your key message-points for a crisis?
If you find yourself in an online crisis situation and are having trouble developing your key messaging – or if you’d like to (do the smart thing and) develop your key-messaging/holding statements before you find yourself faced with a crisis, Agnes + Day can help you. Learn more.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.