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Something very strange is happening on social media these days. Just about anytime you open up one of your social feeds, you’ll probably notice an apology of some kind from a big-time influencer or celebrity. In fact, these social media apologies have become so commonplace that they have started to lose any real meaning. By now, most people realize that these “apologies” are really just a way to keep sponsors and financial backers happy.
Can you ever believe an apology again?
In fact, the BBC recently suggested that you might never want to believe any apology you hear from a celebrity on social media. While apologies may no longer go through the long approval process required by teams of PR handlers, they are calculated at best, phony at worst. People are getting so sick and tired of these responses, in fact, that they are setting up “apology filters” for their emails, in order to ignore them entirely.
Corporate executives apologizing for mass layoffs, for example, are simply trying to avoid an outcry from the public. Celebrities apologizing for certain remarks, comments, or behaviors are just trying to avoid being canceled. And everyone else apologizing for various misbehaviors is just trying to limit the damage. With social media, they can act quickly, invoke a certain amount of intimacy, and distribute a message widely at zero cost. So, from a purely rational and calculating perspective, a canned apology on social media is good business – even if everyone knows it’s fake.
What makes for a good apology on social media?
That being said, there are probably some people who really, truly mean it when they apologize. They are doing more than just acknowledging involvement in some sort of misbehavior, and they are truly concerned about the moral and ethical consequences of their actions. If that applies to you, and you’re suddenly in hot water with your social media followers, the good news is that there are certain steps that you can take for a good apology that won’t be immediately dismissed by cynical social media users.
The first step is to act quickly. That’s why social media can be so useful – in just seconds, you can blast out an apology to the internet. Too many people make the mistake of waiting to see whether or not a crisis will blow over, hoping against hope that they won’t have to own up to their sins. If you wait too long, though, it won’t matter what you say: nobody is going to believe you.
The second step is to clearly express your guilt, and to fully accept responsibility for your actions. Don’t use a canned excuse like, “Well, I was still young back then, and hadn’t grown up yet.” And don’t hide behind a phrase like, “I’m a good family man, with a wife I love.” Stay what you did wrong, and how you plan to avoid similar bad behavior in the future.
Do we bring back the PR handlers?
Of course, some might suggest that it’s time to bring back the PR handlers, so that everything can be approved in advance. But I think that would be a real mistake. For one, you’re almost 100% certain to get a canned, phony response from a paid PR professional that nobody will think is sincere. And, secondly, you’re going to lose the advantage of acting quickly and getting your message out there as soon as possible in order to help control the narrative and put your own spin on the matter.
If you’re a brand or celebrity facing a crisis of some kind on social media, it’s best to act directly. A formal apology is better than no apology. In today’s current environment, in which it’s possible to get canceled literally overnight, social media provides the single-best way to get your apology to as wide of an audience as possible in a very timely manner.