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Public Relations

Corporate Apologies Must Be Sincere

So, you’re in the doghouse

When you were a kid, did you ever get angry? Of course you did. Did you ever do something to hurt someone when you were angry? Sure you did. Did your Mom make you apologize for it? Absolutely. What was the fastest way back into the doghouse? Apologizing without sincerity.

As a business, there will come a day and time when you disappoint someone. Or when you under-deliver after over-promising. You will need to make a sincere apology and to regain trust.

Corporate insincerity and apologies

Despite not being people, brands are run by fallible people who provide products and services to other people. So, it is obvious to me and others that brand apologies must be sincere, or risk additional complications by their equivocation. It seems that those who run corporations would have learned this same lesson at their parents’ knees too.

Saying you’re sorry

According to a Business Insider article authored by Joshua Brustein, corporate Twitter accounts apologize more than individual Twitter accounts. This is based on an analysis of 1183 apologies completed by Ruth Page and reported in “The Journal of Pragmatics.” Page analyzed both corporate and individual apologies and made observations about both.

Brustein notes that sincerity is missing from brands’ apologies,

Apologetic social-media messages from brands are often stilted and mealy-mouthed. Companies rarely restate what they’re apologizing for, which Page interpreted as a way to obscure the initial offense, and are likely to stop short of accepting blame. Companies often pointed out someone else who was at fault or used “adverbial constructions” to avoid taking full responsibility, bending their regret into strange sentences. (Incidentally, companies also used apologetic emoticons at one-fifth the rate of individuals, with frowny-faced 🙁 being the most popular choice by far.)

In place of sincerity, companies offered action. While only 10 percent of apologies from individuals included an offer to right the wrong, the study found that 30 percent of corporate apologies did so.

Accepting responsibility

If I hurt you, it’s expected that I offer soothing words and try to rectify the wrong, but regaining trust and respect come with acceptance of full responsibility for the injury.

Making an apology not only includes saying you’re sorry, but admitting that your judgment was flawed or your understanding of the consequences of your actions was short-sighted: that you hurt someone. You must demonstrate sympathy for those injured. You must not hedge your words. And you must provide evidence of how you will avoid all such future damage.

Preventing the need for apologies

Brustein continues his article by noting the volume of apologies issued by brands via Twitter might be due to the use of Twitter by consumers as a place to air customer grievances. However, he also observes that corporate Twitter accounts might just tweet more than they need to or make comments that invoke the need to apologize.

Corporations tend to spend so much time apologizing on social media because that’s where people go to complain. But the rate at which they seem to stir up trouble is also striking, and it’s pretty much because brands don’t know what they’re doing.

If you are engaging in social media and interacting with your brand’s customers, you may say something that is taken the wrong way. When you do, accept responsibility, apologize with appropriate actions and words and make them sincere.

And let’s hope that your customers, like humankind’s best friends, have short memories and are long on affection, accepting your admissions of guilt and remorse as well as your repairs.

If you find your firm in the doghouse because of something you said, did or failed to do, and which is now or could in the future create a crisis, call us. Our crisis communications and crisis management consultation may help you avoid future injuries.

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