Countless companies and public figures have all attempted social media apologies to curb public backlash. Sometimes they work out, while other times they fall flat. No doubt we are in a tech savvy era where social networking dominates the Web, but what are the rules when it comes to apologizing via social media?

Rule #1: Keep it concise

The winter issue of PRSA’s Strategist reflects on the most recent apology attempt gone wrong. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick used many more than 140 characters to apologize on Twitter for his company’s November embarrassment. When Uber executive Emil Michael fired back at journalists who criticized the car service, Kalanick only made matters worse. With 14 back-to-back apologetic tweets, #sorry was practically trending. Because of Kalanick’s prolonged apology, the minor incident became inescapable and unforgettable. This race to dominate followers’ timelines with a flood of apologies (and a confession of every last sin) is being called a “tweet storm.” As the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours.”

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Rule #2: Be genuine in your apology

There’s nothing worse than putting your foot in your mouth, and then offering an apology that doesn’t necessarily portray the remorse people might be expecting. In late November, GOP staffer Elizabeth Lauten inappropriately criticized the Obama girls on Facebook for “dressing like they deserved a spot at the bar.” After it took her almost a full day to apologize, she posted this on her Facebook:

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There are differing opinions on how genuine Lauten’s apology was, but in the end, she ended up resigning.

Rule #3: Consider if a social media apology is appropriate

In most cases, it’s a good idea to tweet or post an apology to reach your vast social network, but depending on the capacity of the crime, a simple post may not be enough. In 2013 fashion designer Kenneth Cole, claimed he wanted to “provoke a dialogue about Syria” with these tweets:

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Cole provoked dialogue indeed, yet it wasn’t so positive. To rectify his inappropriate comments, he later tweeted this:

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…posted this to Facebook:

“I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate. Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer”

…and uploaded this video to Instagram.

In his multi-platform apology he even defended his comments saying that they “encourage further awareness” about important issues including HIV/AIDs. The posting of Cole’s sarcastic comments deserved a well-developed apology on a platform more formal than social media.

If you find yourself in a sticky PR situation that calls for an apology, remember these rules to avoid becoming a shameful Internet sensation.

Stay tuned…

 

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