Apologies abound after burger chain’s jaw-dropping ISIS-related tweet

A contractor for Z-Burger used a picture of James Foley, a journalist killed in Syria, to sell burgers. The media firm’s CEO offered a personal mea culpa, but the backlash persists.

When a promotional misstep is in extremely poor taste, it’s hard to imagine an adequate apology.

A horrific social media error may cost the Washington, D.C., chain Z-Burger a good chunk of customers, even though that error was made by its contractor, revealing the high stakes of online engagement and reputation management.

The tweet’s author bizarrely—and apparently unwittingly—used the photo of a journalist murdered by ISIS to throw shade at McDonald’s.

WMUR reported:

The tweet promoting the restaurant Z-Burger said, “When you say you want a burger and someone says okay lets hit McDonalds.”

Under the tweet was a photo of Foley moments before he was beheaded by ISIS in Syria with the words “you disgrace me” underneath.

The hamburger chain’s owner, Peter Tabibian, is blaming a contracted marketing company, Valor Media.

Valor Media’s chief Michael Valor explained how the error occurred.

WMUR continued:

“It was something that was completely unintentional. I acted on it as fast as I could, but it was a mistake within my company,” he said.

Valor said the employee who created the tweet had never heard of Foley and thought the image was something from a movie.

He also admitted the ad was never reviewed before it was posted.

“Now, we are putting infrastructures in place to make sure this never, ever happens again,” Valor said.

“I’m deeply sorry for anything that has come out of this situation. Literally from the people who were offended, to all the way up to the family,” he said.

Valor also apologized via video on Twitter:

The burger company also tweeted a statement from its owner distancing itself from the horrific mistake:

Some found the apology lacking:

Others seemed ready to forgive:

As for Valor’s apology, many criticized the maundering:

Others seemed unready to forgive, no matter what explanation Valor provided:

Others voiced appreciation that Valor himself took full responsibility:

Here are some lessons from the debacle:

1. Double-check your tweets.

Z-burger might not be responsible for the reprehensible tweet that kicked off this social media maelstrom. However, the post was made in the burger chain’s name, and therefore many consumers can’t fathom that the restaurant wasn’t involved in the decision.

Make sure internal team members are previewing your social media posts before they go live. A well-rounded and diverse team can help avoid blind spots, and avoiding mistakes is important in an online ecosystem where your most heinous gaffes live forever.

2. Take responsibility. It will be attributed to you anyway.

Even though Z-Burger wasn’t to blame for the error, many found it reprehensible that the company didn’t take the blame for failing to prevent the mistake. Passing the buck is always unwise, especially in a crisis.

3. Video apologies are risky.

Valor spoke directly to his audience in his tweeted video apology, but his rambling performance irked some viewers. When apologizing on video—or whenever cameras are rolling—your spokesperson must practice beforehand. Even then, you are likely to put off some audience members.

4. After a mishap, take a social media break.

After the colossal social media mistake, Valor tried to play off the incident as a learning opportunity.

Savvy communicators know that after a crisis, it’s better to apologize and lie low rather than crowing about how bright your future is. Give the meteoric news cycle time to latch on to something else so your missteps can fade from the public’s collective memory.

What do you think of these crisis response efforts, PR Daily readers?

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