Did Chipotle lie to us? Or is the company just really stupid? Either, way, right now the company’s PR/Social Media department is re-defining the term “epic fail” thanks to this absolutely ridiculous Chipotle Facebook cat “issue.” Huh? No idea what I’m talking about? Let’s review.
On Friday night, a woman who, according to her profile, is a manager at Chipotle, posted from her Android phone:
“Soo just ran over a white cat on my way home…oops!!!
Then the woman, a few minutes later, posted, “lol..one less cat..don’t like ‘em.” What followed over the next half day was some inane dialogue between friends of hers talking about how she should respect cats more and her getting angry that people were giving her shit. Great. Whatever. Who cares. Well, someone who noticed it cared enough to bring it to the attention of the Chipotle Facebook page. Here’s the dialogue/post in question:
Let me be yet another voice to say: Who. Gives. A. Shit. Seriously. How does this affect Chipotle? A manager for one of its stores hit a cat with her car and was less than sympathetic about it. Big freakin’ deal. This has nothing to do with the company, who, like any major company in America, probably employs hundreds or thousands of people who have done something worse in their lives than hittingÂ a cat.
So what did Chipotle do when a bit of a kerfuffle started up on its Facebook page? Well, by all appearances, the first thing they did was lie to us:
Riiiiight. Are you serious Chipotle? Now I know technically you aren’t “lying” if you believe something to be true, but c’mon! What kind of PR department do you have that bought that load of crap? Do you have anyone on staff that understands Facebook and social media? Right, I’m sure the middle-aged female who manages one of your locations had her Facebook account hacked.
What did that hacker do? Steal information? Post embarrassing photos? No, they posted, from an Android phone no less, about how she just hit a cat with her car. Then, the “hacker” returned to the same Facebook thread, the morning AFTER the alleged incident to continue the conversation. What you don’t see in the screengrab above is that she even posted at 2:43 the next afternoon. Seems like a plausible story right? And by plausible of course, I mean whomever at Chipotle actually bought that story is a grade-A moron. Yet the company came out and said the story was “completely false.” Not that they were looking into it, but that nope, the wizards in their PR department were totally sure that this was a malicious Facebook hacking.
But it gets worse. Rather than ignore the handful of people bringing this up on its page and letting an asinine story die down on its own volition, someone in the Chipotle PR/Social Media department decided to post the status update you see above to the Chipotle page. Congratulations guys! You just lied to/misled/duped 1.1 million people!
Originally, there were just a small number of people wondering why a Chipotle manager was so insensitive to cats, but for every individual saying that, there were just as many people making declarations such as:
Soo…. she posted it on her personal facebook? How is this Chipotle’s fault? Are they supposed to control how she feels about everything? I don’t agree with her and think it’s sad, but come on… What do you expect Chipotle to do about it?
Exactly. How is this Chipotle’s problem? It’s not. But they went ahead and MADE it a problem. What followed over the next few hours was a comedy of errors in which Chipotle made a valiant effort to get people to stop talking about the cat issue on its Facebook wall, leading to, you guessed it, THOUSANDS more people talking about the cat issue on Chipotle’s Facebook wall:
First off Chipotle, you posted the same message twice. Way to go. Yes, I know you forgot the word “like” in the first post, and god forbid you do that, so you just HAD to repost the message, drawing even MORE attention to the issue. A bunch of stunned Chipotle fans, not used to seeing the page update about the same topic so repeatedly, and the vast majority of whom had no clue what Chipotle was talking about, started weighing in with their thoughts:
Would have never known about the “cat incident” unless chipotle kept posting “we are looking into the cat” issue. 50 times on my phone in my news feed.
I wish you would stop posting about this incident. I didn’t know about it until your post came up in my feed and I’m not interested in hearing more about it or being reminded of it repeatedly in my feed. This is not how I would handle an incident like this on my own company’s facebook page
I just wanna say that your PR dept. Is handling this brilliantly. I mean, seriously, you guys saw an issue, made it bigger, won’t stop talking about it and now have the XXXÂ crew making fun of you.
Then, about 10 pm EST on Monday, Chipotle slunk back to the wall of its Facebook page to very delicately say that they might, possibly, be really, really stupid and possibly, just maybe, could have been lying to everyone when they announced that the story was “completely false” and the account had been hacked:
Oh brother. The initial information you were given may not have been accurate? Ya think? In the next 24 hours, expect a flurry of social media bloggers to focus on what Chipotle did “wrong” from a social media stand-point (in this case, a lot) and what they could do to correct it. As someone who worked on social media strategy for years with New Media Strategies, I have a few thoughts myself.
- Announcing that the employee’s Facebook account was hacked
This was just epic stupid on so many levels. First off, for believing that nonsense, second, for not expressing some skepticism before making that part of your “story” or “response” and third of all for posting such a definitive statement on Facebook, essentially lying directly to 1.1 million people.
- Posting status updates to address the story
Again, all sorts of epic stupid. This was a small issue that Chipotle made a major one. What they should have done was responded directly with comments to wall posts people were making about the issue. This way anyone reading the wall would see they were responding and addressing the issue. The story could have been effectively neutralized before anyone started talking about it widely. By posting a status update, suddenly 1.1 million Chipotle fans that had no idea this cat story was being talked about were informed about it. Not once, not twice, not three times, not even 4 times, but FIVE times in 8 hours. Overkill folks.
- Not posting other status updates
Hey guys, lets post five times about some cat some lady hit who may or may not have had her Facebook account hacked! Um, you’re Chipotle. Act like it. Stop talking about some lady who hit a cat who happens to be a manager at your store. Don’t sink to the level of the loser internet trolls who will flail around about anything. Post about your new burrito, your latest store opening or some line cook who totally just got his masters degree after taking night classes or something. ACT LIKE A REAL COMPANY – not some pathetic teenager trying to make up a bullshit story about why they were late for curfew. Chipotle finally got the memo – at 2:30 am Tuesday morning:
Right. I’m sure they usually schedule updates like that one at 2:30 am. Too little too late my friends. UPDATE: Chipotle removed this post an hour later. Odd.
- Deleting comments
Some social media analysts will tell you that a company should never delete comments from its Facebook wall. Those social media analysts are wrong. I’m not saying I disagree with them, I’m saying they are just flat wrong. Clifford Mark had a nice thorough post on this issue, but emphasized the “deleting comments is bad” meme a little too much.
There is nothing wrong with deleting inflammatory, profane, off-topic, spam or any sort of message that detracts from the goal of the wall as a place for people to discuss Chipotle. Keep in mind, this is not an open forum, this is Chipotle’s official page, and the people who receive its updates have willingly chosen to LIKE the page. Everytime you let some yokel turn a nothing issue into something big, you are robbing your 1.1 million fans of the ability to receive and view the type of information and discussion they hope to see on Chipotle’s page.
No, the problem isn’t deleting comments, it’s that A) this isn’t an effective strategy when you create a scenario that draws thousands of comments, and B) nowhere on Chipotle’s page do they lay out a “rules of the road” saying what type of wall posts and behavior will be permitted/tolerated/accepted. It’s the company’s page, they can do with it what they wish, but it would behoove them to lay out clear ground rules. Then, if people violate those ground rules, take out your comment deleting axe and go to town – lets not forget, this isn’t a town hall, and your fans don’t want it to be one.
- Suggesting an employee’s comments don’t matter
You know what? In this case, the employee’s comments really don’t matter. It is asinine to suggest this has anything to do with Chipotle or how it runs its business. Many social media analysts will tell you that in this day and age if you are associated with your employer on your profile, anything you say can, could or should be a representation of your employer. Once again, those analysts are wrong.
This isn’t a scenario where someone is talking about something that affects Chipotle’s business in any way shape or form. Most people have at least some respect for peoples privacy and think they should be able to vent about a bad day at work or talk about what happened to them when driving home without it immediately being held against their employer. Chipotle has pathetically contributed to this piling on of one of its employees, allowing fans of its page to post screenshots of the woman’s original Facebook thread that are uncensored – sharing her name with anyone and everyone. Way to look out for the privacy and safety of your employees. Seriously, pathetic.
With disgust, I must quote Sarah Palin here and say “man up” corporate social media America. Don’t run like a scared little kid anytime someone suggests your company is somehow bad because one person you employ did something in their personal time that they kinda, sorta don’t like. Get some guts, and either say it’s not relevant, or bite the bullet, ignore it for a day or two and let it die.
- Give away something free
Again, you will see social media analysts in the next day or two saying Chipotle should give away something free to its Facebook fans. NO. That is the dumbest idea yet. Regular readers of this blog remember when we broke the Papa John’s “Crybaby” story a couple years ago, in which Papa John’s was partially successful in mitigating a word-of-mouth disaster by offering $.23 pizzas to residents of Cleveland. Totally different situation. The Papa John’s logo was adorned on shirts mocking Lebron James. That is not even remotely similar to a woman who works at Chipotle hitting a cat with a car on a Thursday night. If Chipotle even considers giving away something free because of that, it will be a feckless cave-in to a bunch of internet troublemakers and I will lose even more respect for the company.
- Tweak your wall
The default view for anyone visiting the Chipotle Facebook wall is to see a stream of comments from fans. Why? When people visit your wall they should, by default, see your company’s status updates. They are there primarily to read the news you are sharing, not what Joe C from Des Moines thinks about the tin foil you use to wrap your burritos.Â I recommend companies always have its pages set up that way, but the moment an issue like this hits, the easiest thing to do for damage control is flip that switch to make your company’s status updates the default view for anyone visiting the page.
In a situation like this I don’t even have an issue with them disabling any comments to the wall for a day or two. Will people give them crap for shutting down the wall? Probably. But can people’s complaints about that possibly do more damage to the company than letting it get overrun with jokes about Chipotle’s food being made of cats while snarky bloggers like myself have a field day writing about it? No way.
So, yeah. Crazy story right? Thanks for reading. I conclude with the question I ask in my title: Chipotle, what the heck were your social media and PR teams THINKING????