From Kitchen Nightmare to Reputation Disaster

Social media is fast becoming the go-to place for users to find out information about brands and make purchasing decisions.

The nature of social media means that users can “put forth ideas about an organisation that differ greatly from what organisations share with the public” (Aula, 2010, p.45). For this reason, social media opens up a whole world of threats to an organisation’s reputation. Reputation risk can occur in two ways.

Image Souce: Flickr Creative Commons

Image Souce: Flickr Creative Commons

First, reputation risk can occur from what others say about your organisation online (Aula, 2010). We saw this in the case of United Airlines, who suffered a blow to their reputation when passenger Dave Carroll took to Youtube to vent his outrage at the airline’s handling of a damaged guitar.

Second, reputation risk can result from the organisation’s own communication actitives, particularly their reactions to claims on social media (Aula, 2010).  In 2013, Amy’s Baking Company featured on an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.  After the couple admitted to stealing tips, firing more than 100 people and serving up pre-made raviolis, Ramsay walked off the show for the first time in the show’s history.

Like Dave Carroll, watchers took to social media to discuss what they had seen in the episode.  The backlash included a thread on Reddit and several one star ratings on Yelp.  Social media fuels beliefs about an organisation to which they are expected to respond (Aula, 2010). With roughly 60 percent of adults getting information about local businesses from search engines and entertainment websites such as Yelp, thousands of people would have been likely waiting to see how Amy’s Baking Company handled the backlash.

Rather than calmly addressing the situation to minimise further damage, Amy’s Baking Company freaked out on their Facebook page, lashing out at the anyone who critised them. As more people joined in criticising the restaurant, status updates got more and more out of control, calling people “stupid” or “punks” using obscene language and threatening legal action.


Image source: Amy’s Baking Company Facebook page


Image source: Amy’s Baking Company Facebook page

The company later claimed that their Facebook account had been hacked. Regardless of whether the hacking claim was true, the damage had certainly already been done, with the scandal now infamous over the internet. It is unlikely that Amy’s Baking Company will ever fully regain their reputation, with Buzzfeed dubbing it “most epic brand meltdown on Facebook ever”.

Social media has changed the way PR practitioners build relationships with supporters, and as the cases of United Breaks Guitars and Amy’s Bakehouse confirm, it is also pivotal to the management of their reputation.

Do have have any other examples of organisations behaving badly online?


Aula, P. (2010). Social Media, Reputation Risk and Ambient Publicity. Strategy and Leadership, 38(6), 49-49.



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