Let's learn from Morton's Social Media mistake

Blog post from Ryan Carter, EC social media guru

UPDATE: Morton's has since issued an apology on their Facebook page, which followed many of the suggestions I gave for improvement in this blog post. 

I’m never surprised by the power of social media. After a story has been circulated for 10 minutes on the web it almost feels like yesterdays news. If 10 minutes feels like yesterdays news, I wonder what 24 hours looks like for Morton’s Steakhouse? Well, it looks like this….

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the fiasco and customer service debacle at Morton’s Steakhouse in Nashville has become a social media nightmare. With over 7,000 shares, hundreds of negative reviews on all social media platforms, and thousands of views on YouTube/News media video, Morton’s has their work cut out for them. Larger companies really need to be on top of their social media now more than ever. Morton’s is a huge chain- they need to pay attention. Social media creates a mob mentality if something is wrong, even if the complainant is wrong, social media communities don't care. So getting a handle before it spins off the rails is important.

As someone who got their start in social media for restaurants, here’s what could have been done to minimize the damage.

1. Timeliness is EVERYTHING. Let’s look at the estimated timeline: The customer service issue happened Friday the 13th. Unhappy (and rightfully so) customer goes to social media to tell their story Saturday morning on the 14th. Lack luster response from Morton’s Steakhouse comes 24 hours later and over 36 hours from when the incident happened.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve responded to an unhappy customer at 11:30pm on a Friday or Saturday night. Most of the time, I’ve been able to resolve the issue before the customer even gets home. The faster you address the issue, the greater likelihood of retaining some fans. Most people are aware that people are going to make bone-headed mistakes and the faster you can admit your fault or at least attempting to resolve the situation, the better things will be. When I’m managing the social media for a restaurant, I also educate and encourage staff and management to follow preventative measures prior to a fan even posting about the situation. If there is a problem with a customer, especially the blatantly obvious ones, notify the social media manager immediately. In this case, they are aware and more alert to the different social media platforms where the customer might vent about their experience. Instead of being reactive to a situation, we’re being proactive.

2. Be Transparent. The statement by Morton’s Steakhouse probably could have worked if they posted it within the first hour or two of the subject going online. However, this was not the case. If over 24 hour has passed, the brand has had enough time to get to the bottom of the situation. In their case they should have just apologized. For goodness sakes, just apologize! Even if some parts of the story were slightly exaggerated by the upset customer, the fact of the matter is that Morton’s did not handle the situation in the restaurant correctly and an apology needs to happen. Customers’ want to hear, “We’re sorry.” This could have been a great opportunity for the CEO of Morton’s to write a note on Facebook addressing the issue, apologizing, reassuring Morton’s fans this is not in line with their value system, and talking about their support of cancer research and/or hosting events with cancer organizations. Also, at the point of a story like this going viral, don’t waste your time with deleting comments and posts. People will figure this out and then they’ll troll back to old content and start spamming it with their feelings on the matter. Now the entire past year is plagued with negative comments. Own the mistake, let people vent it out, and hopefully time will soften the blow. 

3. What’s Next Strategy? After you’ve given a timely response and been transparent about the situation, what are you going to do next to move forward in a positive direction? This is where management, marketing, PR and social media all sit down and create a strategy present their brand in a positive light. There are literally an unlimited number of things that Morton’s can do. If it were me, I would suggest a few things- 100% of sales over the next weekend go to American Cancer Society- this might entice people to come dine-in, instead of completely boycotting the restaurant. Or maybe Morton’s could offer a buffet to all the cancer patients at Vanderbilt. They could really do anything that at the end of the day says, “We’re sorry and we’re trying to make right what happened in our restaurant.”

The takeaway for a restaurant like Morton’s? Be proactive in your communication to managers, social media, PR ect so they can be ready if a customer decides to let loose on social media. Respond in timely manner and be transparent about where you are in resolving the matter…but first, just apologize. Finally, create some good press for yourself by resolving the issue, make it up to the upset customers, and go the extra mile to show your city that you can do better.

How would you have handled the situation at Morton's if you were a social media manager?

Ryan Carter is the Social Media Manager at the EC and Owner of Parachute MediaEmail him at ryan.carter@ec.co