A Lesson on Crisis Management From The Onion Oscar Scandal

During Oscar night, satirical American news publication The Onion posted the tweet below about 9-year-old Oscar nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis.


Now, you most likely have mixed emotions about the tweet, depending on your sensitivity to crude humor, but with social media’s immediacy and reach you can bet that it stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Even though many fans actually defended the tweet based on the premise that The Onion is known for satirical humor, a lot of others ranging from celebrities to regular Onion readers expressed their disgust. The negative feedback prompted The Onion CEO to post a public apology on Facebook.

The Onion - apology

There seems to be two groups now: one that have lost all respect for The Onion and one that appreciated their apology. It doesn’t matter which group you belong to though, because I’m here to tell you that their course of action was correct. Those in the first group don’t support the apology because they believe as a source of satirical humor, a public apology for a joke goes against what The Onion stands for. But, as a brand, you have to think long term. Reputation isn’t something that’s built overnight. Whereas those in the second group were outraged and agreed that The Onion took it too far, that it was offensive more than satirical. When even your most loyal fans are negatively receiving a message that you’ve sent out, then you certainly have to reconsider the message and possibly take action to rectify the situation. Because let’s be realistic–those who have “lost all respect” for The Onion are most likely going to continue reading the satirical news site anyway because no other brand is quite the same. And HERE is yesterday’s article that definitely won at least a few of them back.

Since February 25th, the apology post on Facebook has racked up 9,723 likes, 3,467 shares, and 7,325 comments. And from what I skimmed through, a majority of the comments are those either appreciating the apology or don’t believe The Onion needed to apologize for a joke but they are still supporting the publication regardless. Either way, the apology ushered a sense of relief to those upset over the tweet and retained them as readers.

What can your brand learn from this scandal?

  1. Draft a crisis management plan. Pray that you never have to use it, but if the situation arises, you know what steps to take instead of utilizing precious time to think on the spot–especially at such a stressful time.
  2. It’s okay to admit that you were wrong. In social media, posts are immediate and the reach infinite. Therefore, a message poorly received can spread like wildfire within minutes. But the beauty of social media is that if you apologize, the digital world will quickly move onto the next big thing. Don’t delete something without addressing it either–this can make it seem like your brand is being ungenuine.
  3. Think twice before posting ANYTHING. Assume that everything that you put on the Internet will live forever in the digital world. The Onion surely learned their lesson. If you search “The Onion” on Google, this tweet scandal is within the top five search results. It must sting, and I can’t begin to imagine how much effort it’ll take to push it off the first page of searches.
  4. Draft social media guidelines. We cannot be certain whether The Onion really “instituted new and tighter Twitter procedures”, but having clear social media guidelines is something that your company should take into consideration. What can be posted? What language aligns with your brand? How should you reply to complaints and questions?

Any other tips from those who have already enacted a social media crisis management plan at their company? Get us at @p0rtal_k!


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