‘The Mob’ Online

In the first quarter of 2013, we watched quite a few brand fiascoes unfold.  And in each case, what’s the new norm?  A public outcry on social media platforms – “the mob” rears its head.  But then, to the surprise of many fearful corporate executives, the storm blows over.

As WSJ Live reported, companies like BATS, which competes with NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange, experienced a large PR crisis then found it to be short-lived. After the crisis, its customers remain loyal – sometimes even more loyal when they see company communicating and handling the PR crisis with care.

What are some of the big fiascos that stirred up the Internet Mob and then blew over?

Instagram #Instascam

Back in December 2012, soon after Facebook acquired Instagram, Instagram released a change in their terms of service. The wording read that Instagram or Facebook could accept payment from advertisers then share users’ info and photos without any compensation to the user. Then the kicker: anyone not wanting to be corralled under the new terms of service would have to delete their account before January 16, 2013.

The social media frenzy began. Users were outraged and began threatening to cancel their accounts. CEO Kevin Systrom later issued a blog post statement assuring users that “it’s not our intention to sell your photos.” Then the terms of service language was updated, and the fury was abated.  How many of you quit using Facebook because of this “temporary” PR fiasco?

Boycott Applebee’s

A pastor dining with a group of 10 at Applebee’s wrote on her receipt above her signature: “I give God 10% why do you get 18.” An Applebee’s employee snapped a photo of the receipt and posted it on Reddit. These reactionary decisions don’t bode well for either party. The employee chose to disobey the company’s social media policy, the pastor complained, and the employee was fired.

That’s when the social mob focused on defending the employee. “Rehire Chelsea Welch” groups popped up and the pastor’s name was dragged through the mud along with Applebee’s. That same night the Applebee’s social media team was answering responses, and one journalist tallied more than 40,000 negative Facebook comments. Keeping in mind, that was after some comments were deleted. When did this PR crisis blow over?  Not for another week or so. But last time I checked, Applebee’s was still in the neighborhood.

Carnival #poopcruise ship

Carnival just keeps getting hit with crisis after crisis. We all remember its Costa Concordia ship capsizing off the coast of Italy resulting in the death of 32 passengers. In February, the Carnival Triumph’s engine fire fiasco left thousands without working toilets or showers (#poopcruise). Then in March, the Carnival Legend cut its cruise short because of propulsion system failure. And most recently, the Carnival Dream gets hauled home after experiencing a technical issue with its emergency diesel generator.

With crisis after crisis, there are lessons to be learned. What has Carnival done about the #poopcruise? They extended a not-so-generous offer… for the frustrated passengers to keep their robes. The Internet mob was outraged. How dare they put their paying customers through sewer trauma and offer them nothing. But what was the mob able to accomplish? Nothing. Although vacationers may think twice before booking a Carnival cruise, for now, Carnival is still the world’s largest cruise operator.


Social media mobs seem threatening to a brand, but time after time, we see brands weathering the storm. The outrage blows over, and brands continue with business as usual. The question then becomes how will you handle the mob?

Handling each situation with care, your brand will most likely weather the storm. Your crisis too will pass. The mob will be angry; they will speak out. But in the end, they will move on.