The online witch hunt, how good brands can lose quickly & how to recover

Lately, it’s kind of bothered me to see the type of “witch hunts” that get set up online. Social media has completely taken over, and I’m not so sure if it’s a good thing anymore.


May seem like I’m whining, but as a community manager now I can definitely feel others’ pain as they try to deal with witch hunts. I’m not talking about Amy’s Baking Company [those people are actually cray] but I’m talking about these types of situations:

The most recent I can think of is the Golden Corral situation. 

A Reddit user named GCWhistleblower [account now gone] posted pictures of a kitchen overflowing with garbage near food and food near garbage bins. The text with the photos said, “Just an average day for a Golden Corral Employee, best working conditions ever!”

Granted Reddit is definitely a place to bring these kinds of things up and I swear Reddit users are sometimes more investigative than police. However, it wasn’t really until this Mashable article went up that Golden Corral’s Facebook Page exploded with comments and negativity.

A rep from Golden Corral posted up this message:

A video was recently posted showing an incident of improper food handling at our Port Orange, Fla., location. None of these items were served to a single customer. All were destroyed within the hour at the direction of management. Brandon Huber, the employee who made the video, participated in the disposal of the food.

The following day, the father of the employee, posted an offer to sell the video for $5,000, which was not accepted.

The manager involved in the improper storage was terminated for failing to follow approved food handling procedures.

A variation of that message was also posted on the Facebook Page and they also responded to several comments with variations of that message as well. Was the backlash for Golden Corral fair for one isolated incident? No. Does it happen quite often? Yes (Taco Bell, Domino’s, etc.). And we have to learn how to deal with it

How do you deal with those things as a public relations professional? What can you do before things spiral out of control?


Jay Baer’s steps:

  1. Acknowledge: Actually acknowledge something has happened. Ignoring the crisis at hand won’t do you any favors now or later
  2. Fight Social Media Fire With Social Media Water: respond first in the venue where the crisis first broke. If the crisis initiated on Facebook, respond first on Facebook. Then circle around and respond on other networks.
  3. Be Sorry: Apologize, be sorry & actually mean it. Everyone can tell whether it’s real or not. You have to be genuine or you’ll continue to be ripped apart.
  4. Create a Crisis FAQ: Create a webpage or microsite and put all the information about the crisis in one place. This allows you to respond to questions with a link instead of an answer.
  5. Build a Pressure Relief Valve: You will WANT people to vent on a venue you control.Whether it’s your Facebook page, blog, forum, or comments section on your Crisis FAQ microsite, you want ire to accumulate on your turf.
  6. Know When to Take it Offline: Some people are just way too bold online (more so than they actually are IRL) so sometimes the best course of action is to offer your phone number or email address, and encourage the troll to contact you that way.
  7. Arm Your Army: That’s why it’s imperative that you keep ALL employees informed about the crisis.Whether it’s email, text message, internal blog, etc. you must keep your employees at least as knowledgeable as the public
  8. Learn Your Lessons: After the crisis (which may be a while), you have to set up the evaluation. Document every facet, what happened, what worked, what didn’t, what to do next time, etc. It will help you in the future.


Another witch hunt that led to absolute disaster was Reddit + New York Post + Boston bombers.

After Reddit identified possible Boston bombing suspects as Salaheddin Barhoum, 16, a high school sophomore, and Yassine Zaimi, 24, a part-time graduate student, the New York Post put this on their front page:


The problem was the “bag men” pictured weren’t actually the ones responsible and had nothing to do with the terrible incident. They’re now suing the New York Post for libel.

Animal New York went as far as to publish this apology the New York Post should have issued, which they still haven’t made a statement or apologized (that I could find).


I think this goes to show that no matter what we see online, no matter where it is posted, we have to be careful of the “truth” that’s out there. I’ve made the mistake of automatically believing things I see and I regretted it. While Twitter is an excellent news sources, sometimes it’s just hard to sort out what’s real and what isn’t.

Before we participate in any witch hunt or proclamations, we all need to do a little more research and be a little more patient before we report “truthful” news. CNN may know this better than anyone as well over false Obamacare and Boston news as well. It’s not always about being the first to report.

One thing I learned from Jay Baer:

“Never send a third reply. A third reply is an argument, not an answer. On the third reply, you take it offline.”


2 thoughts on “The online witch hunt, how good brands can lose quickly & how to recover

  1. […] The online witch hunt, how good brands can lose quickly and how to recover – On her blog, my good friend Lauren Gray goes over the importance of protecting brands on its social media properties in times of mishaps and crises. She also cautions people against rushing to judgment on social media before all the details surface regarding such incidents. […]

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