The Power of Social Media Is Nothing To Joke About

Do you know what viral virility is? It is a new term for the most powerful weapon of social media. If you are running a business, or are engaged in any kind of commercial activity, your reputation is one of the most crucial success factors.   I’m usually careful about giving advice, but this is an exception. In fact, I urge you: Do not underestimate the power of social media! The following story illustrates how bad it can get when a company have no idea of the viral virility the social media possesses, or how to deal with it.

“This is a company that didn’t understand how to respond to an Internet mob. This whole thing would probably have gone away if they hadn’t kept pouring gasoline on the fire.”

R.L. Stollar


This is crazy story about how we humans fail to communicate in a way the we may understand each  other – in spite of our easy access to extremely effective communications equipments.  It also goes a long way in explaining why so many companies still haven’t figured out a profitable way to get into this extremely attractive market – they just don’t understand its behavior. The story begin one busy afternoon i mid January when Pastor Alois Bell  from the World Deliverance Ministries Church in Granite walks in to a Applebee’s, fast food restaurant in  St. Louise.

The pastor probably din’ know about it, but the policy at Applebee’s is that when the number of guests exceed a certain number, an additional 18% tips is added automatically to the bill.

And he certainly would not except it!

Applebee's-reddit-002So, when the bill came he overlined the number 18 and wrote: “I give God 10% – why should I give you 18?”  Then he left.

But at Applebee’s St.Louise worked young waitress named Chelseaa Welch. Chealsea is a known viralist in St. Louice. That means she’s one of those online personalities that live their lives fully implemented in the digital world, with the social networks as the most important platform for their lifestyle. They are very often creative people who uses the many online digital features to create, or just express them self.

Chelsea found the bill laying around and found it both insulting and amusing at the same time, stating that many people complain about the extra tips, but she never heard anyone using “The Big Man as an excuse.

Going Viral

So, what was the most natural thing n the world for a viralist like Chelsea?

Post it online, of course.

And then the trouble started…

A lot of people did not find the good Christian Pastor’s comment very funny. On the contrary, the post sparked a rather hateful attitude towards the Pastor, who at this point probably starts to feel slightly embarresed.

It sure looked that way when he a couple of days later arrive at the doorstep of Applebee’s, now with the traditional media as objective observers, and delivered a complaint that was both loud and long enough to claim the first victim of this media war,

Chelsea Welch was fired.

Big Mistake #1

You don’t fire a known viralist on the social media’s watch. That’s worse than, “The whole world is watching.” Well, actually, that is who is watching.

And you can add; they are interacting!

Not quite realizing what to do, Applebee’s attempted the traditional crises strategies. Press releases, press conferences, advertizing campaigns – nothing worked.

This social media stuff actually requires intelligent thought and interaction, especially if those social media users aren’t happy – these were not…

This is something I believe traditional media has yet to comprehend.

Big Mistake #2

So Applebee’s finally thought of sharing its side of the story with customers. On its Facebook page – second mistake!

“We wish this situation hadn’t happened,” the post began.  Of course not!

Today I guess wish also would have known that going viral can overwhelming, difficult to handle, terrifying,

The result of the Facebook confession was an inundation of negative comments – thousands an hour…

But Applebee’s totally and completely blew the opportunity to save face, turn the situation around and become knows as the most heroic restaurant franchise of the year.

According to R.L. Stollar, news editor at the Eugene Daily News, who stayed up to document the fiasco, it was a social media meltdown” – a train wreck.

“This is a company that didn’t understand how to respond to an Internet mob. This whole thing would probably have gone away if they hadn’t kept pouring gasoline on the fire,” he says.

Unable to keep up with the continual rising tide, the company disabled user posts on its Facebook page.

The following day (last Friday) they posted a status update. This reaffirmed the corporate statement. The problem is it hid their previous post and the comment thread that held over 20,000 responses.

Many thought they were deleting posts to look good, something which Applebee’s denies.

Big Mistake #3

“It’s very complicated to respond to negative social media. We tell our clients to respond, but don’t criticize. And never hide posts because people see that as censorship.,” says Louis Richmond, who is a crisis management expert at Richmond Public Relations in Seattle.

I think  Carole Di Tosti at Technorati crystallizes what you need to know about social media:

“Online, in most cases, overarching goodness and kindness are prized. Online, the Golden Rule tends to rule with “the little people” who use public social media, for social media is indeed, public. Online, the underdog is supported, conspiracies are read and listened to and pondered and celebrity suicides are mulled over with great interest and speculation. Online, little is taken for granted, especially when something is posted to Reddit and it catches wind and fire.”

But the story is still unfolding.  Applebee’s sacking of  Chelsea Welch is something users will not forget.

And that’s why some at the moment are signing a petition to have her rehired, while others are calling for aboycott of Applebee’s.

See what we’re up against?



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All Human Rights Reserved (h) 2013

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