How Not to Handle a Social Media PR Nightmare (Thanks Chipotle)

Earlier today, while reading through friends’ status updates on Facebook, I came across a statement from Chipotle stating:

We’ve been looking into this and it sounds like the cat post is not legitimate and may have been the result of a hack or an unauthorized use of someones personal account. If you still want to talk about all of this, please keep the language to PG or we’ll have to remove posts.

Cat post???  Hmm…I was intrigued.  Did someone hack into the actual Chipotle Fan page and post something as Chipotle?

After doing a little research, it appeared that a Chipotle employee wrote on her private Facebook account:

Sooo I just ran over a white cat on my way home…oops, not my fault!

So it wasn’t on Chipotle’s page: not by a Chipotle CEO…but just a girl who happens to work at Chipotle.  Dumb move on the girl’s behalf, of course – should Chipotle be drawing attention to it? Probably not.

And finally, the nails in Chipotle’s social media coffin. Chipotle posts on Facebook:

The statement of the cat sounds like it was not legitimate. If you would like to keep talking about it, please move to the discussion tab, and lets keep the language PG or we’ll have to take it down. Remember, our facebook wall is intended for broad-ranging discussion about Chipotle. -The Managment

And two hours later:

It doesn’t appear that there is anything to this cat story, though we have set up a discussion tab if you want to keep talking about it. Otherwise, we’d like to keep the wall for broader discussions about Chipotle. Thanks.

As of 6:30 p.m. PST, the Chipotle Facebook page was littered with people upset that Chipotle employed a “cat-killer”, numerous Chipotle-Cat jokes, and people wondering why Chipotle even responded to the rumors (and lied) by saying that the employees account was hacked.

Chipotle – here’s where you went wrong:

  1. Giving an official response on Facebook regarding a store level employee. You flamed the social media fire – as many of your followers pointed out, we wouldn’t have even known about the incident until you posted about it.  There are millions of people associated with thousands of companies around the world that say dumb things.  Unless the official Chipotle Fan Page was hacked, or the comment came from a member of senior leadership, ignore it.
  2. Claiming the employee’s account was hacked before you had full details. The post was made on December 9th.  I would think that any reasonable Facebook user would have noticed by December 13th if someone had posted a thing like that on their wall.   Oh yeah, and on December 10th, she responded to comments people made regarding her post. the Chipotle officials are liars.
  3. Telling people to not talk about the incident on the Chipotle Facebook wall and to move the conversation to the discussion tab. This, Chipotle, was a huge mistake – those statements undoubtedly turned off a lot of people. In social media, you give up a level of control when you decided to participate in the social media space.  And, for you to tell someone where they should be speaking about a subject is bad etiquette.  Social media is a cocktail party, would you tell a fellow partier to “take the conversation elsewhere”?

I know that Chipotle is a great company, and I have a lot of respect for them.  But this “situation” should be a lesson to all marketers of how not to handle a social media PR crisis.

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