What to do When Viral Goes Bad

August 4, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


The things that go viral are often surprising. Cat videos, anyone? Other times, it’s quite clear.

In recent years, a number of shocking viral restaurant videos and photos have shown employees mishandling food, revealed unsanitary conditions, and more. It is an unfortunate situation for any brand, but the upside is that it presents valuable learnings for everyone in foodservice.

Advance planning before your brand is attacked is key.

Assign a task force. Make a list of key contacts with after-hours contact info. The list should include your spokespeople, executives, subject matter experts for all areas of the business, social media managers and PR representatives.

Take social shifts over weekends and holidays. Viral crises happen fast, so it’s important to have channels monitored frequently. Spread the responsibility among staff to take shifts (so no one gets burned out). If one person tunes in every day once in the morning and evening, that should be sufficient to catch wind of any trouble.

Choose a spokesperson. This should be someone who has authority over the brand, for example a CEO or department head. You’ll also need to include a back-up spokesperson in case the first choice is unavailable.

Prepare key messages. You’ll want to explain that you are aware of the situation and taking things very seriously, but don’t claim to know more than you do. Early on, it’s okay to say that the team is still working to fully understand the situation.


Respond fast. Leverage every channel you have to take control of the message quickly. The sooner you can acknowledge the issue, the better. Reply to social media posts and media requests, if only to say that the issue is being investigated.

Hold the advertising. A viral crisis is a good time to take a low profile. Put advertising on hold, so that fewer consumers will be reminded of the issue.

Verify the validity. As you investigate, check for signs that the video or photo is a hoax, particularly, if it’s not 100% clear that the video or photo involves your restaurant. Hold off before confirming anything or apologizing.

Make it right. Once you feel that you have a good understanding of the issue, it’s time to solve the problem. Apologize to those who may have been harmed, and provide specific changes you are making to ensure that nothing like this happens again.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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