Social media moves at such a rapid pace and has the capacity to reach such a wide audience that what might seem like a minor situation can quickly snowball into a crisis if we aren’t vigilant about monitoring and responding to the issue. If not dealt with quickly and effectively, a crisis can be extremely destructive to an organization, resulting in lost profits and a (sometimes permanently) damaged reputation. Given that we hear about so many social media “fails” on a regular basis, it was difficult to choose which one to focus on. Since the majority of crises originate on Twitter and Facebook, I thought it might be interesting to focus on another social media platform: Reddit.
On January 28th, a user named Hinter75 posted a thread on Reddit entitled “Working at Mimi’s Cafe, Columbia MD is just gross”. Claiming to be an employee of the American restaurant chain, they proceeded to post several images of unsanitary, and quite frankly revolting, conditions at a restaurant they claimed was Mimi’s Cafe. Here are a few choice images for your viewing displeasure:
The original poster mentioned that the photos were a few months old and although nothing in the photos could be identified as being from Mimi’s Cafe, the story quickly spread. The original post garnered a total of 4181 comments and was upvoted numerous times, meaning it would have been displayed on Reddit’s main page where many people could have viewed the images.
According to this article, their Twitter and Facebook accounts were quickly inundated with people remarking about the story and that when reached for comment, the restaurant declined to respond but instead forwarded a number to their PR company that went straight to voice mail. They eventually began to personally respond to queries, but ended up switching to a canned response that they used to reply to everyone who made a comment:
Two days later, the Baltimore Sun reported that the restaurant had passed an inspection completed by the health department the day before.
How could Mimi’s Cafe have better responded to this crisis?
Firstly, kudos to Mimi’s Cafe for responding fairly quickly to the allegations on social media. However, if they had a community manager who was tracking online conversations in real time, they likely could have responded more quickly. Releasing a statement on Twitter before the amount of comments got out of hand would have demontrated that they were looking into the situation. They also could have commented on the original post on Reddit. Additionally, I do find the canned response approach to be a bit impersonal. I’m sure this was a more efficient way of dealing with the volume of queries, but I think a personal touch would have been better. Although it would have been a lot more work, their responses before they switched to the canned messages seemed more sincere. Responding personally allows you to tailor your message to each person which makes people feel that you are really listening to them. Mimi’s Cafe also should have responded to any requests for information from media or bloggers rather than declining to comment. Those bloggers may have helped to spread their message for them. Also – and this is so important – if you are going to give out a number for a spokesperson, that person needs to answer the phone!
Secondly, Mimi’s Cafe could have used video to their advantage. By posting a quick video tour of the premises on YouTube which could then be linked to all other social media accounts, they could have demonstrated their safe practices for handling food as well as the cleanliness of the establishment. They could have also encouraged staff members to post on social media about all the daily precautions they take to keep food safe.
Thirdly, they could have joined forces with the health department to keep followers updated in regards to the inspection by announcing the date and time of the booking. This would have alerted followers to the face that the restaurant was doing its part in being transparent and was taking care of the issue. Posting a photo of the passed inspection report would have helped disprove allegations. The health department could also tag Mimi’s Cafe in any of its posts related to the inspection so that people could know that Mimi’s wasn’t simply making up the fact that they were working with them.
Overall, I think that Mimi’s Cafe responded fairly well to this crisis, but with a few improvements, the issue could have been nipped in the bud sooner. It seems, based on the passed inspection, that they were simply the unfortunate victims of an unwarranted attack, which unfortunately can happen to anyone.