When a brand’s reputation is going down in flames, a well-crafted apology over social media can be a face-saving lifeline, but only if it’s received as a genuine call for forgiveness. Republican Representative Todd Akin failed to quell an onslaught of social media criticism after issuing a vague statement on Facebook related to his assertion that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy, because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” After Twitter lit up in a fury over his denial that rape causes pregnancy (video below), Akin claimed he “misspoke” on Facebook. We thought Akin’s colossally bad non-apology was a good opportunity to illustrate how others have done a good job at asking for forgiveness over social media. The most important lesson is to unequivocally apologize and don’t use the attention to plug how good you are the rest of the time–otherwise you’ll invoke the creative wrath of the online community, now being levelled at the beleaguered conservative candidate.
After online clothing shop CelebBoutique accidentally exploited the Dark Knight movie theater massacre in Colorado to plug their Kim Kardashian clothing line (incidentally named, “Aurora”), the company couldn’t belt out apology tweets fast enough.
While CeleBoutique did feel some heat, it quickly dissipated after they revealed the embarrassing fact their PR department was outsourced overseas and gave an impassioned plea for forgiveness.
More recently, CNN news anchor and TIME contributor, Fareed Zakaria, was caught for the (much less offensive) act of plagiarizing a historian’s work; he didn’t even bother trying to defend his work on Facebook.
“I made a terrible mistake It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time and CNN, and to my readers and viewers everywhere.”
An internal review by TIME found that the plagiarism was largely unintentional, and he is now the center of a civil debate about the difficulty of journalism in the online age. He willingness to accept fault left room for others to defend him.
Issuing an unequivocal apology is the first step, and keeping one’s mouth shut after “i’m sorry” is the second step. After claiming he misspoke, Akin went on to tout his political platform “But I also believe that this election is about a wide-range of very important issues, starting with the economy and the type of country we will be leaving our children and grandchildren.”
Interestingly, we know exactly how audiences react when they see a transparent attempt to spin apologizes into positive coverage. In response to a nauseating employee YouTube prank by Dominos Pizza employees defiling the food, CEO Patrick Doyle immediately apologized on YouTube. However he made the mistake of also plugging Dominos “delicious food”. Watch users react to his apology, where PR firm MediaCurves overlays his video with a real time focus group graph, rating his everyword for “believability” (his scores tank at around 1:45):
Because Akin didn’t issue a genuine apology, his face is now plastered on the front page of Google News and is the subject of a growing online backlash, like this Twitter parody account
rape [reyp] noun 1. A thing that happens where the result is always zero babies.
— Legitimate Rape (@LegitimateRape) August 19, 2012
In short, the lesson for brands and politicians is just say “I’m sorry.” No more, no less.