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Social media meltdown or storm in a teacup? Brisbane hotel’s bed bug debacle

How to give a FCK! Social Media Specialist, Henry Valentine Clarke's 5 Tips on navigating a social media storm

Imagine the excitement of a romantic getaway – the anticipation of cozy nights in a luxurious hotel room, the promise of relaxation and indulgence. Now, picture the horror of discovering bed bugs crawling in your sanctuary at 2 am, forcing you to seek refuge in the lobby, abandoned by the very establishment that promised you comfort.

This nightmare became a stark reality for a couple enjoying a weekend escape in Brisbane.

Read the summer print edition of AccomNews HERE

The beleaguered pair aired their grievances on social media and their ordeal immediately morphed into a full-blown PR disaster for the hotel, catapulting it into the unforgiving spotlight of public scrutiny. And when news outlets caught wind, it further amplified the hotel’s humiliation, tarnishing its hard-earned reputation.

AccomNews reached out to a social media expert for tips on ways to manage this sort of social media PR disaster

Social Media Specialist Henry Valentine Clarke told us: “You could simply ignore the incident, delete the comments, never apologise, hope it goes away and the public will forget.

“But, here’s the thing- they won’t forget!

“The internet has a fearsome collective memory for brands it believes have betrayed them. 

Henry Valentine Clarke

“You need to craft individual responses, ongoing, as a part of your continued customer service and community management strategy.

“That is, to continue to update your audience on the tangible steps that have been taken, and will be planned to resolve this issue in the future.

“Post-crisis, you need to update regularly to ensure that your audience understands your commitment to tangible change.

“Once you start seeing more positive sentiment than negative, you can consider dialing it back to more business-as-usual.”

However, he says amid this chaos there is always a beacon of hope for any business that is caught in the eye of a social media storm – an opportunity for growth.

Henry Valentine Clarke, says it is wise to engage the expertise of a proactive PR agency but reveals his top tips on how to effectively manage a social media disaster and how to turn adversity into an opportunity for redemption.

1. Swift and strategic action

In the face of a crisis, every moment counts. Swift action is paramount to contain the fallout and regain control of the narrative. The hotel should have swiftly acknowledged the incident, demonstrating empathy and a proactive approach to addressing the guests’ concerns.

Make sure you deal with the customers first. Ensure you identify and resolve their issue through private channels and attempt to turn their negative experience into a positive one. A full refund is not enough. Try to create a strong, positive memory for them that eclipses the negative memory – and they might just turn their opinion around publicly.

2. Authenticity and transparency

Authenticity is the cornerstone of effective crisis management. Instead of resorting to canned responses or evasive tactics, the hotel should have embraced transparency, owning up to its shortcomings and outlining concrete steps to rectify the situation.

The best hope of overcoming the crisis is transparency. Social media users are incredibly savvy to canned responses, excuses, PR jargon, or blame-shifting. In this instance, there were the customers (those who found the bugs) and the audience (those who saw the video and felt disgusted). Both of these parties needed to be managed effectively by the brand.

3. Direct engagement

Direct engagement with affected parties is non-negotiable. The hotel should have reached out to the distressed couple personally, offering sincere apologies and tangible solutions to alleviate their distress. By demonstrating genuine concern and accountability, the hotel could have salvaged its relationship with the aggrieved guests.

4. Active monitoring and response

Social media is both a blessing and a curse in times of crisis. While it can amplify grievances, it also provides a platform for swift damage control. The hotel should have monitored social channels vigilantly, responding promptly to comments and inquiries to mitigate negative sentiment and reassure concerned patrons.

5. Turning crisis into opportunity

Every crisis presents an opportunity for growth and redemption. By embracing transparency, accountability, and a customer-centric approach, the hotel could have transformed this debacle into a testament to its resilience and commitment to excellence.

Through genuine efforts to rectify the situation and prevent future occurrences, the hotel could have emerged stronger and more trusted than ever before.

The Brisbane hotel’s bed bug debacle serves as a cautionary tale for businesses navigating the treacherous waters of social media.

By heeding the lessons learned from this unfortunate incident – swift action, authenticity, direct engagement, active monitoring, using empathy, and turning crisis into opportunity – businesses can weather a social media storm and emerge victorious, with their reputation intact and their customer loyalty fortified.

The KFC story…

FCK – a clucking well-managed social media crisis

The incident

In 2018, the food chain KFC ran out of chicken in the UK due to supply and delivery issues. This led to temporary store closures and many ‘hangry’ consumer complaints online.

Media “#ChickenCrisis” coverage was rife, the brand was in crisis but along with its agency, Mother it went into a damage limitation exercise that became known as one of the greatest examples of corporate crisis management, winning awards including the Grand Prix for Campaign of the Year at the Marketing New Thinking Awards 2018.

Crisis management strategy with heart and humour

KFC set out two objectives: a mass-scale public apology for the disruption caused and a clear, transparent and genuine explanation of what was being done to fix the issue.

KFC took full responsibility for the chicken crisis, offering an apology written in everyday language.

It shared an ad with a clever play on their name – FCK. 

It joked: “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants.” 

The ad ended by directing consumers to a dedicated microsite,, once again using humour.

Speaking to Campaign, Meghan Farren, KFC’s chief marketing officer for the UK and Ireland, said of the strategy: 

“We allowed people to empathise with us by being human, to see how we were feeling. Brands are like people; they are run by human beings. If you want people to connect with other people, you are authentic and open and honest and humble. We just acted like that.” 

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