Many companies or organizations that have faced a social media crisis will say that the biggest lesson they learned from the experience was the power of an apology. Saying they were sorry and being honest about the mistakes they’d made enabled them to reach a turning point within the crisis.
When I interviewed Frederic Gonzalo
, vice president of marketing for Quebec-based resort Le Massif, he said that one of the biggest things Le Massif learned from its social media crisis 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. Your customers and fans want to feel that you sincerely care and hear you acknowledge what they’ve endured. Replacing “I’m sorry” with “it’s regrettable” will not give them that reassurance.
One of the great things about social media is that it enables 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.
They want 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.
Saying “I’m sorry”
• It will not help you regain control of the social media crisis (which is at risk of going viral).
• It does not connect you with your customers and fans, thus you can’t focus on building a lasting relationship with them.
• It acknowledges that you realize you’ve made a mistake and will hopefully learn from it.
• It makes your customers and fans feel that you care about them—helping to build a long-term relationship.
• It leads to forgiveness.
• The best-case scenario: It can help you stop a social media crisis in its tracks.
• It humanizes your brand.
• It acknowledges that you’ve done something wrong.
The bottom line
• It will make your lawyers feel uneasy.
• It puts you at (greater) risk of a lawsuit.
Basically, you have two options: choose to say you’re sorry, mean it, and learn from the incident or mistake; or 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.
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.”
What about you?
What’s your take on this some-what controversial topic? Are you the “I’m sorry” type of organization or the “it’s regrettable” type, and how come?
Melissa Agnes is a social media crisis manager, speaker, and consultant. This story first appeared on MelissaAgnes.com.