A look into Starbucks & Facebooks recent PR nightmares

A challenge for any company is keeping ahead of public relation nightmares in a time when news and opinions go viral. A company’s success can be positively corelated to the inevitability that they will be involved in some sort of public relations crisis. However, if you are positioned to respond to these crises quickly and appropriately, a mistake, or miscommunication, doesn’t have to permanently alienate you from customers or business partners. Recently, two of the biggest names in the US have come under fire, Facebook and Starbucks. These stories have a lot to show us about the importance of responsibility, accountability, and transparency in public relations.


Taking responsibility amidst a public relations crisis means not trying to cover up or ignore the issue. It also means you are not trying to downplay the damage you have caused to individuals, the environment, credibility, etc. Admitting responsibility, reacting immediately, and understanding people’s concerns are the first steps to getting back on track. In the wake of Facebook’s data collection scandal, the social media company announced they have conducted an internal investigation which revealed that the “improperly shared” data collected by Cambridge Analytica, may have influenced up to 87 million users. Taking responsibility for a breech this size was not Facebook’s first move. They originally estimated a mere 270,000 affected users, but when it comes to public relations, its better late than never. When a video of two men being arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks went viral, the issue surrounding the crisis was racial discrimination and profiling, topics sure to get everyone’s attention, but somehow completely eluded the coffee company. The first apology from Starbucks included no mention of discrimination and took no responsibility for the public’s concerns. It was three days before CEO Kevin Johnson apologized publicly and admitted that the situation was “reprehensible.”


Social media and other web-based platforms have offered today’s businesses, and high-profile individuals, more accountability. Rather they embrace it or not, they are constantly being held accountable. Accountability is key in a public relations recovery. With the influx of words people read every day through text, email, and news feeds, words have lost their authenticity, and the world is looking for action. When we look at the recent crises facing Facebook and Starbucks, we can see how using appropriate and timely accountability to mend relationships with consumers is one of the most effective strategies. Facebook announced it would act by suspending hundreds of other third-party apps that have access to large amounts of their user’s information. Starbucks made an unprecedented move by closing 8,000 stores for a day of mandatory training of customer relations policies and uprooting unconscious bias.
Finally, while on the road to recovery after a public relations nightmare, transparency can not only redeem your name, but it can also make your relationship with consumers better than it was before. In the months after the fallout of these two icons, we can still see their efforts to make amends. CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, testified in two U.S. congressional hearings. The company has also engaged in a constant stream of dialogue with their users since the incident and has promised to provide security measures such as easier-to-use privacy tools. Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson personally met with the two men arrested to give a face-to-face apology. They have also vowed to treat anyone inside the establishment as a customer, rather they are paying or not.


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