How Your Small Business Can Recover From a Publicly Embarrassing Situation

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Uh oh. Your employee tweeted something off the cuff and stupid. Or perhaps you did. Or the really catchy tagline you were so proud of went over like a pound of lead. We have all been there: that place where you open your mouth and insert your foot.

Pretend for a moment (if you dare) that you’re the head of Comcast. Now pretend you just got wind that one of your employees made a promise to a customer over the phone assuring him that high-speed internet service would definitely be available at an address this customer was considering for purchase. The customer works from home, and a fast internet connection is integral to his lifestyle and financial well-being.

So with your employee’s promise in his pocket, the customer moves forward, buys the house, and then calls your company to schedule his internet installation … only to find out that it isn’t possible. At all. Not at any cost.

The customer now must move and sell the home he just purchased — all because one of your employees screwed up. (This actually happened, by the way … if you haven’t read about it, you can do so here.)


Also consider the recent cringe-inducing Starbucks #RaceTogether initiative. While the campaign was well-intentioned and meant to provoke serious dialogue on a timely topic, its reception was less than enthusiastic. Apparently nobody wants to talk racism over their morning coffee. You can read all about the travesty here.

Yikes. While your business will inevitably face many potentially embarrassing dilemmas, they will likely (hopefully) not be as disastrous as those. But, big or small, they will happen.

The question is, how do you recover? Moreover, how does your business recover?

Here are a few simple steps to help when a public gaffe threatens to swallow you whole:

  1. Don’t lose your head
    Many times public embarrassment happens when you are too busy, stressed, or angry, i.e. when you don’t take the time to think about what you’re saying before you say it. Once it’s out there, take a moment to step back and cool off. Continuing to escalate the situation with combative language will not help things at all, so the first step is to take a deep breath and calm down.
  2. Think it through
    This step ties in with first one about calming down. However, once you are calmed down, think about what your next step will be. You might need to apologize and explain. You might also need to seek legal counsel (in the case of libel or slander.) Consult your close associates, your family, and your attorney to move forward.
  3. Take control of the story
    Remember that those who are writing your story, control your story. Take ownership of what happened and address what happened with media. Send a tweet, a press release, or publish a Facebook post. Be sure to handle it quickly.
  4. Don’t hide
    This is a mistake that is too often made. People in trouble will try to cover up what happened and it really never works. The truth will out every single time. Own up to what happened, apologize and plan for what’s going to happen next.
  5. Move on!
    The more that you talk about what happened, the more it will continue to be talked about by other people. The biggest step after you get done apologizing and explaining is to move on from what happened.

The nice things about mistakes is that we all make them and soon enough your mistake will be forgotten among the many, many other ones. Remember to keep your head held high. This too shall pass.

Ever made a big, public booboo? How did you handle it? Give us your tips in the comments.