Are you in the midst of a breaking crisis? Call +1 (514) 458-7101

The Crisis Intelligence Blog

The Power of Strong Negative Emotion in a Social Media Incident

11 Feb

There’s no mistaking the impact of strong negative emotion with which your stakeholders will identify, in a social media incident, that immediately escalates the would-be incident to a crisis level. I say there’s no mistaking it, but really, this critical red flag is mistaken – or just plain missed – quite often.

Let’s take the Applebee’s recent social media crisis as a beautiful example: A waitress violated a customer’s right to privacy by posting a bill with a less-than-polite note and the customer’s signature to Reddit. (For a more thorough look and analysis of the Applebee’s social media crisis, click here.) Normally, this would call for dismissal – especially since the waitress had been forewarned of the potential consequences of such actions.

So what makes this case so different? Why did it explode in outrage and attacks against the Applebee’s brand, online?

Applebee’s, having (unwisely) not been prepared with a social media crisis plan, did not understand, nor were they capable of identifying a major aspect of this situation that was a sure-fire sign that this had “crisis potential” written all over it.

Let me explain.

There is a difference between a social media crisis and a social media issue. Under normal circumstances, this event would have typically been a social media issue. However, do to the strong negative emotional impact the situation had on its audience, Applebee’s failed to see its potential for viral disaster.

One definitive way of detecting a social media crisis vs. a social media issue is by evaluating the emotional impact of the situation on your stakeholders.

In other words, if the situation you’re dealing with has a strong negative emotional aspect with which clients, staff and/or your market will identify, it must immediately be escalated to the “social media crisis” level.

Where was the strong negative emotional impact, you ask?

Many people (myself included) have spent time in the service industry. We’ve experienced the highs and lows of working with the public for not very much money, putting up with the many different characters that make up our society, and have even been stiffed on tips – on probably more than one occasion. The note that the pastor left for that poor waitress on the bill AND the fact that, at a glance, one would assume that a zero with a line through it meant she received no tip at all, stirs up a lot of emotion in the vast majority of people. People who have been there in some shape or form, at one time or another.

Had Applebee’s been prepared with a social media crisis management plan before this situation occurred, or, had they hired a professional who truly understood the rules and laws of online crisis and issues management, they would have clearly identified this situation as potentially having a much stronger impact on their audience than anticipated.

What I would like you to take away from this blog post

It’s quite simple and straight forward:

  1. Negative emotion with which your stakeholders can identify = potential crisis, make that a potential viral crisis situation
  2. Equip your brand and your team with a crisis and issues management plan before you need one

A strong online crisis management plan has many components to it that help protect and prepare your brand from online disasters, threats, risks – you name it. The smartest thing a company can do in today’s digitally dominated world is equip themselves to be ready. Are you equipped?


  1. From Computers to Social Media: Dealing With Your Children Online | GotoBabyGifts - February 11, 2013

    [...] The Power of Strong Negative Emotion in a Social Media Incident ( [...]

  2. Responding To Criticism Without Widening The Audience | Mr. Media Training - March 18, 2013

    [...] Editor’s note: Melissa Agnes offers more about the strong negative emotional impact of a social media incident here. [...]

Leave a Reply

Subscribe and arm yourself with Crisis Intelligence!

Get the tips and strategies you need to prevent, manage and overcome any type of organizational crisis - by subscribing to The Crisis Intelligence Blog. Subscribe to receive:

  • One weekly email with our latest blog posts and podcast.
  • Insider access to our best crisis management strategies.
  • VIP access to current and future crisis intelligence offerings.

We will never spam you or share your information with a third-party.