US restaurant Applebee's embarrassing Facebook fiasco has become a case study for how to ruin your reputation on social media.
Last month the restaurant fired one of its waitresses after posting the receipt she received from a pastor on which was written her excuse for failing to tip on Facebook: "I give God 10%," she wrote, "why do you get 18?"
(Remember tipping is "compulsory cultural practice" in the US, and the wages are so low that waitresses depend on them to make rent).
Applebee's claimed that the waitress violated the privacy of a customer and violated one of the terms of her contract.
Naturally, social media users did not take kindly to this and many an hour was spent criticising the company, posting comments on its Facebook page and raging about it on Twitter. One lawyer even offered to represent the waitress pro bono for wrongful dismissal.
One user wrote: "What happens on the internet stays on the internet. This was deleted by Applebee's shortly after this disaster went viral."
Another user wrote: "The internet has already recorded that you have no qualms posting the exact same customer information when it is good feedback and not a snide comment by a horrible person. When a lawyer gets wind of this, I would get ready to grab my ankles."
Had Applebee's been wise and kept its mouth shut that's where this may have ended. Well, probably not, but they might have escaped with their reputation not entirely in ruins.
Because on Saturday night it decided to respond to the continuing outrage by commenting on its own Facebook post at 2.53am: "We wish this situation didn't happen…Our franchisee has apologised to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest's right to privacy".
Applebee's posted this statement on its Facebook. It didn't help things.
As you can imagine, that comment failed to help anything. The outrage grew to blind anger.
One user wrote: "Wow… PR nightmare, what idiot thought posting this contrite Facebook update was a good idea? I think you should consider firing your social media marketing person, too."
More than 10,000 comments had been recorded on Applebee's Facebook page, according to journalist R.L Stoller who has documented the entire fiasco on his blog.
The comments pointed to the fact that it was more than a little bit hypocritical for Applebee's to fire the waitress who posted the photo of the receipt on her Facebook page, considering that it had itself posted a receipt in which a patron's full name was put on display less than a month earlier.
Let me repeat this: Applebee's fired a waitress for allegedly violating a guests' privacy, less than a month after it had done the same, publicly, on Facebook.
The image to the right that was posted by Applebee's disappeared around the time they fired the waitress. Thankfully, the internet took screenshots for posterity.
After firing the waitress, the company conveniently decided to delete the photo. Clearly, they didn't consider that someone had already taken a screenshot of the image, which you can find below, courtesy of blog, "If You Can't Afford To Tip".
It was also discovered that Applebee's had hidden or deleted negative user comments, but it seemed there were so many it simply couldn't keep up. Users upset at having their criticisms censored continued posting on the Applebee's Facebook page.
It gets worse. For some reason whoever was administrating Applebee's Facebook account decided it would be a good idea to respond to people's complaints. At 3am.
First the administrator tried to defend the company's decision by posting a lengthy explanation for what happened and why it was justified to fire the waitress in question. Then they decided to copy and paste the explanation over, and over and over again in a fervent attempt to reply to every single person who criticised them publicly on Facebook.
Naturally, users started to show off their copy and paste prowess by continually pasting the same complains over and over again on its page.
Then it started to pick fights with people publicly on Facebook.
"People can say a lot but it doesn't mean its true," the Applebee's representative wrote in response to a user's post. "I really do understand why you're upset, Manuel, I'm upset over the situation too. Sometimes it hard to let people know just how much you really care behind a computer screen in a Facebook comment, [sic]. Thanks again for caring so much about Applebee's workers."
"No one's asking me to comment at 5am," Applebee's wrote in response to another post. "I am because I care, we care. I totally understand why you're upset and hate that I can't fix it."
After that Applebee's turned the comment it had posted on its own update into an actual status update, presumably in an attempt to have the final word and hoping in vain that everyone would just shut up and go away.
The hostility by now is at an all time high.
Hundreds of thousands of comments criticising Applebee's followed. At some time between then and 9.00am yesterday Applebee's had deleted its original post, once again ignoring the possibility that somebody might have saved it for posterity.
It then lied about deleting any posts, writing: "no posts have been deleted". It was also still picking fights with users.
As of 10.25pm last night, more than 35,000 comments about the incident have amassed on the page, mostly negative.
One of the latest comments on the page reads: "I for one am enjoying Applebee's PR suicide."
Applebee's is humiliated, and hundreds of thousands of people are threatening to boycott the brand. Hundreds of pages have been set up in support of the waitress including "Like us if you pledge to take your business to whoever hires [name omitted]" and "boycott Applebee's".
The worst part about all of this is Applebee's doesn't seem to realise how bad it is making things for itself.
Businesses take heed. Read Applebee's Facebook page and do the exact opposite.