Red Robin Blows off Social Media Crisis Management

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    Online reputation issues can be a double-edged sword

    Not a week goes by recently that we don’t see an organization that’s in need crisis management after releasing a new commercial or web video that is CLEARLY going to press the buttons of one group or another.

    The latest is an ad, from burger chain Red Robin, that’s stirred up vegetarians because of a Mom-type character’s sarcastic line, “They even have a garden burger, just in case your teenage daughter is going through a ‘phase.'”

    In browsing the Red Robin Facebook, we saw a whole lot of comments like these:

    redrobin post3 redrobin post2 redrobin post1

    The frequency of these “accidental” reputation crises begins to raise another question…are companies inciting drama on purpose? It’s certainly not a new tactic, and it’s a proven, highly effective way to generate conversation about your brand, as well as grab anywhere from a couple hundred to tens of thousands of new followers. It’s also a risky one that can quickly backfire if you don’t have the amount of support, or as large a reputation cushion, as you thought. In this case, while there is certainly a hefty contingent of Red Robin supporters defending the organization, many of the negative posters on social media are piling on to discussions of the commercial with other complaints, like dirty tables or poor service, that would probably otherwise have gone unvoiced.

    As for Red Robin? The organization doesn’t sound too upset, only replying to a handful of social media posters with, ““… our intent was to indeed promote some of our different menu offerings with our Gardenburger ad, and we appreciate you sharing your feedback here,” hardly a heartfelt apology. In the end, the company may have analyzed stakeholder reactions and decided that losing a percentage of their already-marginal vegetarian customers is nothing compared to pulling in equal or higher numbers of burger-hungry carnivores while reinforcing the loyalty of others.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]