Social Media Suicide: A Dissection of the Applebee’s “Strategy”

Social media‘ has got to be one of the most thrown about buzz phrases of the last year, and with internet usage growth meaning that brands find it more and more important to be found online socially, they are also finding that they are expected to take a point of view on all things social.

This is dangerous territory if not handled correctly.

Some companies feel that because having a social media presence often doesn’t cost them a lot to get off the ground when compared to the traditional advertising forms, there doesn’t need to be the same stringency around


Applebees (Photo credit: Steve Dinn)

process and content that they do when they set the rolls of film or presses in motion.

SURELY by now, companies have a grasp on the fact that, yes you can pull your TV ad, yes you can pull your press ad, but that playing in the digital space these days is a lot more risky if you’re not 100% confident on your content and strategy. Let’s face it, everyone has some form of screen-grab these days on their desktop, even if it is in basic Microsoft Paint. On mobiles there are screen capture features which do exactly the same job on the hoof. Yet companies are still of the mindset that once they pull something from the internet, that it is gone forever.


People are seriously resourceful, and wit’s not surprising how quickly they will pick up on a brand blunder.

Applebee’s are a great case in point. Take this example. Recently there was a waitress who was fired from Applebees for posting a photo she took of her receipt. The receipt was from her customer, and was that of a pastor who wrote,

” I give God 10%, why do you get 18%? ”

in reference to a tipping request from the restaurant to tip staff 18%. She was fired having been told she breached terms of her contract. Right now I’m not bringing that into question, the US has a tipping policy to top up low wages, and that is another discussion entirely. Neither am I bringing into the fact that the pastor has painted himself out to be a bit of a stingy bugger when he’s in a profession of supposed selfless help. (The Pastor issued an apology, and that is completely aside to my point of this article).

Applebee's Receipt, taken from

Applebee’s Receipt, taken from

What I am questioning is what followed from the Applebee’s management/staff or whoever was behind the following.

Applebee’s claimed the waitress violated not only her contract but the privacy of the customer. Interestingly however, other receipts (with full customer names visible) were posted on Facebook when the reviews were good. These were removed soon after (what I’m now referring to as) the ‘God incident’. Double standards much?

Social media users of course, loving the underdog, stuck up for the fired waitress, and gave Applebee’s a piece of their mind on the Applebee’s brand Facebook page.

Interestingly enough, I’m sure that had they put in place an emergency style PR strategy, no doubt the damage could have been contained and even turned into their advantage. Instead it seems that someone (I was about to judge them as a new start/intern/over eager and sleep deprived 20 something with a serious love for their job, but I’ll not quite go there) decided to respond to all the comments through the middle of the night, 3am, 5am etc, suggesting it was ‘because they cared’ rather than they were being employed at this time.

Now, wading through what ended up being over 10,000 comments in response, particularly in the middle of the night, with (what I am assuming) was no PR consultation, is like walking into a lion’s den, with a Lady Gaga’s meat dress on and shouting ‘dinner!’…. Come on, they seriously cannot have expected this was to end well…!?

Users were hooked on the hypocritical nature of the sacking, considering full customer names on receipts with written comments were posted previously on the page, and then removed this around the time of this incident.

If that wasn’t enough, Applebee’s decided to hide or delete negative comments.

Gun. To. Head.

Not to be recommended in the social space when you are inviting criticism in the first place by playing the space, but then especially a bad move in the midst of this PR crisis.

Some trolling ensued which I won’t go into, but I think at this point you get the idea.

Social. Media. Suicide. (and 101 how you get into the content of memes)

Applebee's commit Social Media Suicide, sprouts customer backlash wrath and meme

In this particular example, the pastor is the one given the meme treatment,referencing another popular meme.

Out of interest, I just checked the page…… and IT’S STILL GOING……(in and around some menu updates, which frankly have soured from the below posts)

Author's screenshot of Applebee's Facebook page

Author’s screenshot of Applebee’s Facebook page

Author's screenshot of Applebee's Facebook page

Author’s screenshot of Applebee’s Facebook page

 Applebee's commit Social Media Suicide, sprouts customer backlash wrath and memeApplebee's commit Social Media Suicide, sprouts customer backlash wrath and meme


It’s not just restricted to Facebook, either. Blogs have gone up tracking the fiasco, while the hashtag #BoycottApplebees has gone viral on Twitter:

#Boycottapplebees hashtag on Twitter has gone viral.

#Boycottapplebees hashtag on Twitter has gone viral.

So here we have a company, large enough to know better, who are employing old school, poorly judged tit for tat style management of an incident that required some tactful PR reconciling.

We’re not all perfect, and hey, the social space is pretty cutthroat these days, but we can all learn something from this. (Well, lots actually, but let’s just focus on one thing…)

It’s not that we shouldn’t comment freely, it’s that businesses should be aware of how the social space operates, and how to manage it if they are to avoid social and quite probably career suicide. You are inviting comment from the world, and need to be prepared to handle it in the best possible way. The days of hiring social interns to form your entire social media department are well and truly over unless you want to be walking the fine line Applebee’s just did,…..and that’s what’s happens when things go horribly wrong.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read more of the comments on their page…..


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Categories: Business, Entertainment, People


Digital and Comms nerd working in an INGO. PhD researcher (technology / gender / International development / fragile and conflict affected states / South Sudan). Bibliophile. Writer. Musician. Views my own.

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6 Comments on “Social Media Suicide: A Dissection of the Applebee’s “Strategy””

  1. February 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    This reminds me of the Barbara Steisand effect or the Metallica (/Napster) effect. The internet magnifies the public reaction to an event by linking in unrelated people into the issue. But I also wonder how much of it is because of how brazen people are these days in sharing their supposed moral outrage. People love to put on this overreaction to something they see as a moral outrage and use it to grab attention. These attention seekers, I feel, need to attract the attention of a few knuckle sandwiches so that calmer minds may prevail.

    Did you see the reaction to Ron Paul’s tweet about Chris Kyles’ death? Same thing.

    Also, “is like walking into a lion’s den, with a Lady Gaga’s meat dress on and shouting ‘dinner!’…. Come on, they seriously cannot have expected this was to end well…!?”

    We should work this line into every intentious article from here on in. 😛

    • February 7, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

      Agree on playing up to a moral social standard as a group that may not be followed as an individual. I think people feel strength in numbers let alone behind an ip address.

      Oh and the meat dress was totally just a nod to you 😉

  2. AndreaMc
    February 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

    Oooooh! It just gets better!!
    Read this…
    Seems Applebee’s is now forcing employees to support them on social media. Nice.

    • February 10, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

      Amazing how draconian an approach a business in this day and age is having on a modern medium. I can’t believe they’ve not hired a social media guru to whip their sorry corporate asses into shape on this one. I’d have thought they had learnt their lesson by this point….


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