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The Crisis Intelligence Blog

5 Lessons To Learn From Chick-Fil-A’s Social Media Crisis

30 Jul

If you haven’t heard, Chick-Fil-A, an American fast food franchise, recently released a statement to the Baptist Press saying:

”We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

Well, with a statement like that in this day and age you can surely imagine the backlash the chicken franchise has been experiencing! Since issuing this statement, Chick-Fil-A has lost control of their Facebook page, lost some long-standing partnerships, and have, in the midst of all of this, potentially made some very poor decisions.

It’s safe to say that Chick-Fil-A is in the midst of their very own social media crisis!

Some mistakes Chick-Fil-A has made, and what you can learn from them

Mistake #1: There are allegations stating that, in an attempt to counter the negative comments overpowering their Facebook page, Chick-Fil-A created some fake Facebook accounts in order to leave supportive comments to their own page.

Why this is a bad idea: Social media is based on truth and transparency, and when it comes to the Internet nothing stays buried long. When you’re caught in such an attempt – and odds are you most definitely will get caught – you will pay for your schemes ten fold. Once you lose the trust of your customers and fans, it is very hard to get it back – and getting caught in such a dishonest, shallow and desperate attempt is a sure-fire way to instantly lose the trust and respect of your customers and fans.

Mistake #2: Blatantly lying in a desperate attempt to save your brand from total embarrassment.

When the Jim Henson Company announced that it would no longer partner with Chick-Fil-A due to the company’s anti-gay-marriage views and beliefs, Chick-Fil-A almost instantly released a statement saying that they would no longer be issuing Jim Henson toys within their kids meals on account of “possible safety issue”.

Why this is a bad idea: Wether true or not, this statement came out looking to many as another desperate, dishonest and pathetic attempt to save their reputation.

Mistake #3: Though the brand is responding to the crisis and publishing updates to their Facebook page, they have completely neglected Twitter – where the other half of the crisis is taking place.

Why this is a bad idea: It is important to respond and be present wherever the crisis is taking place – in real-time. Issuing their statements on Facebook is only half the battle when the other half of the viral chatter is taking place on Twitter. It’s important to have your message be heard by as many people as possible. This means that you need to address the crisis on each and every platform that the public is addressing and discussing it on.

There’s positive to learn from too! What Chick-Fil-A is doing right:

What they’ve done well: Through all of this we have to give Chick-Fil-A credit for doing a good job at addressing each issue with a statement of their own on their Facebook page – where the crisis is heavily breaking out.

Why this is a good idea: By doing this they’re scoring points with their still-loyal fans and advocates for addressing the issues head-on and on their turf. I’ve posted their statements below, and you can clearly see that they’re accompanied by a high number of support and likes. This is helping the brand continue to connect with their still-happy and loyal fans and customers. They’re not shunning away or staying silent.

Though I can never and will never condone lying (though there’s no way to know, 100% for certain, whether Chick-Fil-A is lying or not), addressing the issues head-on rather than shying away and letting the crisis take complete control of your brand is always in your best interest – as is being honest and transparent every step of the way. These statements, which are at the top of the brand’s Facebook page, allow for anybody coming over to the page to see what they have to say first and foremost. This is very important in a crisis.

However, if Chick-Fil-A is lying within these statements and the public finds out, well, they’ll be finding themselves in even more of a crisis, giving their angry customers even more of a reason to lash out at them – a risk that is never worth taking.

What they’ve done well: They’ve allowed for the discussion to take place.

Why this is a good idea: Their Facebook page is being bombarded with comments from haters and fans alike. The discussion and debate is taking place on their fan page by the minute and Chick-Fil-A is simply allowing it to happen. In this age of two-way conversation and free-speech, Chick-Fil-A is doing well to give each and every person the right to voice their opinions and feelings on this highly controversial subject – and they’re giving them an open platform to do so.

Learn the lessons and strengthen your brand!

Within each social media crisis are lessons to be taken away and learned from. Chick-Fil-A offers a wide array of such lessons, and by understanding both their strengths and mistakes you will empower your own brand to pull through a social media crisis, if ever you find yourself in such an unfortunate situation.

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14 Responses to “5 Lessons To Learn From Chick-Fil-A’s Social Media Crisis”

  1. Tony Jaques July 30, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    But why did they issue their original statement in the fIrst place. What was the upside? What was the strategic benefit?

    • Melissa Agnes July 30, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      There was none, other than the "good feeling of making public your opinion". Apparently the brand is known for their "biblical morals", people just hadn't realized how far they actually took it – in belief and in action.

      Lesson #1 could have been "Don't stick your foot in your mouth", but I talk about that one all the time as so many people and brands give me good cause to!! I wanted to look at how to (and not to) respond to the crisis once it's happening.

      But it's clear: Chick-Fil-A brought this one on themselves, making a statement like that in today's world…

    • Grant Walker July 31, 2012 at 1:07 am #

      They did not exactly make a public statement. The president was quoted by the Baptist Press, a religious publication that interviewed him. It was his personal statement of beliefs and never said it was the official stance of the company or that they would discriminate in their restaurants. The company is now beleagured by an organized attempt to censor the president. We live in a time where the opinion of the president and the stance of the company are very difficult to separate in the public arena. That is a lesson here.

      There is a very strong social media and blogosphere backlash from supporters of Chik-fil-A. It would be interesting to see a discussion of the social media battle now taking place.

      • Melissa Agnes July 31, 2012 at 9:51 am #

        Yes, Cathy released the statement to the Baptist Press. And yes, it was released as the stance of the company:

        “Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position.

        “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

        “We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

        “We intend to stay the course,” he said. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.””

        Reference: /

        As for a discussion on the SM battle currently taking place, you may just find that in a future post! It’s a perfect example of why it’s important to build your network of loyal fans before a crisis, so that they may come to your defence and help you out once you’re in one. Though it also very much helps that this is such a passionate and controversial topic.

        Thanks for your comment, Grant!

  2. Stephanie McFarland July 30, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Melissa, if the accuracy of this information has not been confirmed, why is it being shared in your blog? Don't we expect good journalists to verify facts before publishing conjecture and speculation? Shouldn't we, particularly in light of a blog that criticizes an organization, also hold itself to an ethical standard? As your blog attempts to give readers something to ponder, and some clear editorial commentary, I would think sharing confirmed, factual information would be required as well–regardless of Chik-Fil-A's, or any organization's, stand on an issue.

    • Melissa Agnes July 30, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Hi Stephanie,

      The accuracy of the information has been confirmed, 99% – which is the most it can ever be confirmed in this situation. At this point it's a "he says/she says" scenario, but the links I link to back up my points and information, again 99%.

      By posting that "note" I was simply trying to clearly state that, in a situation like this, one will never know 100% for certain and I didn't want to speculate that 1% chance. But you're right. I've edited the post and taken out that note, since 99% is as true as it will get and all of my research and the dates of such postings lead us to know that it is in fact true.

      Thanks for sharing your feedback and helping me strengthen my post, Stephanie! Have a great week ahead,


  3. Jane Jordan-Meier July 31, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    Very interesting post (and comments too.) All this (and a recent snafu in social media by Australia by food retail giant, Coles) only reinforces the power of social media, and how organizations – any organization – needs to recognize that any issues management or crisis communication plan just MUST have a strong scial media component. Without that, they will fail. We, the people, have taken back control and we will speak up and out wheneverwe see an injustice. I LOVE that we do that!

    • Melissa Agnes July 31, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

      Agreed, and I LOVE it too! It's real and it's about time! Though, now with certain control issues we've been seeing (see today's post and probably tomorrow's as well!) it's worrying to think that companies, organizations, and now even SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS are doing what they can to attempt control… we shall see what's to come.

  4. gerald baron August 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Interesting and valuable post, and I mostly agree with your comments. One concern: you say it is almost certain that they blatantly lied, using the Jim Henson situation as an example. I agree, it looks fishy. But their Facebook post on this states categorically that they took action on July 19 and Henson responded on July 20. Just wondering if you have additional info that this was dishonest on their part. Also, on the fake Facebook–they are categorical in denying that they are doing that. Is there other evidence that they did it? In these situations, credibility is everything, and if they compromised it–particularly given their strong faith stand–it would mean a lot. If not, we'd want to be careful about suggesting they are lying.

    • Melissa Agnes August 7, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      Hi Gerald,

      Thanks for your comment, and I agree, it's fishy, but not completely provable. I've found statements issued by both parties and at this point it's very much a "he said, she said" situation. That's why I was careful to call them "allegations" and to state " Wether true or not, this statement came out looking to many…"

      It's a tough call between the two, without any proof beyond reasonable doubt, but good lessons for others to learn from none-the-less. That's why I wrote the post the way I did!

  5. keema August 9, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    As a PR professional, I normally counsel business leaders to avoid interviews that touch on controversial subjects. However, Dan Cathy is a well-known Christian who doesn’t compartmentalize or hide his values. In fact, Mr. Cathy’s father molded Chick-fil-A around those same, Biblically based values and beliefs. Any reasonable person — and any loyal customer — would assume the Cathy family’s belief system extends to traditional marriage.

    In this age of so-called “honesty and transparency,” it is unfortunate Mr. Cathy was so, profoundly demonized for presenting his honest opinion to a journalist who was writing for a Christian audience.

    Have the rules somehow changed? Would crises comm professionals be trumpeting the PR mistakes of Mr. Cathy had he openly supported same-sex marriage? Did the Jim Henson Co. leaders null and void like PR “blunders” by voicing their support for non-traditional relationships?

    Is the first amendment only limited to the few and/or the select?

  6. Melissa Agnes August 9, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    You're right, though with free speech comes the judgement of others. Like you said, it's a controversial topic – one that, no matter what side you're on, you're probably very passionate about.

    However, as much as Chick-Fil-A got attacked by unhappy fans that don't see eye-to-eye, they also got defended by those who do.

    It's a very interesting case.


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