Crisis Communications: Lessons from Red Lobster

The day before the Super Bowl, Beyoncé debuted her new single “Formation” online. I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that, it’s been the talk of the internet for over a week now. The song includes a quite catchy and explicit line about using Red Lobster has a reward for her husband after sex. The line was included in the song unbeknownst to the national seafood chain. Beyoncé super fans (the bey hive) quickly took to social media channels and included the reference to the restaurant. Red Lobster didn’t respond to tweets for hours and when they finally did their responses was thought to have fallen flat due to the delay and lack of creativity. During this time, you can only imagine Red Lobster’s social media and marketing team was debating about how to respond. Unfortunately, I don’t think they had any way of predicting the immediate positive effects along with the ongoing negative effects that continue today.

Red Lobster

The positive effect is that the song was released on a Saturday and the next day, Super Bowl Sunday, sales increased 33 percent compared to the previous year. Red Lobster sales have been declining for years and until the song’s release, they showed no immediate signs of improvement. The negative effect is that due to political and racial imagery in the music video, some people called for a boycott of the restaurant. What is even more unfortunate about the timing of the video is their ongoing social media campaign “lobsterworthy”. Before the video was released, the chain began asking consumers to share their “lobsterworthy” moment on the brand’s social media channels. To consumers that were calling for a boycott, it seemed as if the restaurant was capitalizing of the song. In reality, they were continuing to run a campaign they had already invested time and money into. This campaign even included the ill-timed or brilliant-timed (depending on how you look at it) release of “lobsterworthy” t-shirts and Valentine’s Day specials.

RLobster

The campaign actually began on Valentine’s Day 2015 when the brand had the term “lobsterworthy” added to the Urban Dictionary. If you’re caught in a sticky situation like Red Lobster what should your brand do? First, your brand should always have a crisis communication plan in place. As sports buffs say, “The best offense is a good defense”. With every campaign know the risk involved and prepare for that. In Red Lobster’s defense, they could not have known the popularity or the controversy that would surround the video. But none the less, they had time to prepare and their corporate responses continue to disappoint consumers. When it comes to crisis communications, there are a few do’s and don’ts that can be learned from Red Lobster.

  1. Humanize Your Brand

A few consumers called out Red Lobster for their overly corporate Facebook responses to disgruntled people saying they were boycotting the chain. Social media is for conversations; real conversations. No one likes to call and get an automated recording and they don’t want to see automated corporate responses on Facebook or Twitter. People connect with brands that are human and speak as humans do. This includes having your social team sign each message with their first name or their initials. All consumers have to do is scroll up or down your timeline to see the exact same response 50 times. Yes, it’s tedious, but the time it takes will pay off in the end.

  1. Take a Stand

Red Lobster never truly took a firm stance on the imagery in Beyoncé’s video or the song lyric. In the beginning, they had a few “you go, Beyoncé” tweets, but as backlash grew they began to retract those statements and the corporate responses grew and took over. Absolutely nothing on social media dies. Consumers will find everything and call you out for not being authentic. Once you have a response stick with it or be prepared to tell people why.

Consumers quickly noticed Red Lobster was not responding to its loyal supporters and consumers, but rather just to the boycotters. They were swiftly called out on it. Respond to everyone. Even if it’s a simple “thank you” your consumers will appreciate it. Hard to support a brand that doesn’t seem to support your support them.

RLobster2

  1. Stick by Your Words

Once you’ve taken a stand, be sure it’s what you want the world to know about your brand. Consumers connect with and are often more loyal to brands that take a stand on social issues. This means your brand has to be brave. Whether it’s gay rights or racial inequality your brand has to acknowledge there will never be an issue all of America agrees on. I’m sure you’re asking, “when is it right for a brand to take a stand?
In the case of Red Lobster, now is the time. Other brands like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A were also forced into it or did so on their own accord. With social media, it’s hard for brands to continue being superficial. Consumers want to connect on a deeper level and that means being honest and open.

Only time will tell when the Beyoncé & Red Lobster backlash will die down. For now, the restaurant should continue its campaign and embrace new consumers that may be replacing old ones. The positive comments on their social media channels seem to be overtaking the negative ones. Supporters are speaking loudly and helping do the job of responding to critics. That’s the great thing about social media, sometimes your consumers help you clean up the mess. Do you have any tips in crisis communications to add? How do you feel about Red Lobster’s social media response? Tell us in the comments.

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