Friday, February 18

Gaming Apologies: Empty Without Empathy

Sorry
Last year, Bob Conrad was one of a few communicators who stood in defense of Toyota while it was savaged in media coverage over recalls. This year, ample evidence has been released that demonstrates Toyota was essentially proven to not be at fault for the accidents.

I was less sympathetic, but only because Toyota made the decision to apologize too quickly. It had come before Toyota had even identified the problem.

Why? They assumed their own guilt because of a rushed and improper situation analysis. Once they apologized and accepted guilt, nobody was ready to believe them again, at least not right away.

Taco Bell isn't handing out apologies. They're handing out tacos.

In the wake of a lawsuit claiming that Taco Bell is misleading consumers into believing it serves "seasoned ground beef" as opposed to "taco meat filling," dozens were prompted to make jokes and try to turn allegations into opportunity at the expense of the chain.

Had the company employed the ten commandments of social media crisis management, they would have rushed in, taken their lumps, and said they were sorry. So why didn't they?


Personally, I'm not a fan of fast food but I have to give them props. They paused long enough to conduct a situation analysis and conclude they aren't guilty. Their taco filling contains considerably more beef (88 percent) than the plaintiffs want people to believe (35-36 percent). The courts will decide the rest, but the public crisis appears to have been abated.

Most apologies are meaningless anyway.

Perhaps worse than not offering an apology when it is warranted is offering one that doesn't sound like much of an apology. Ask Nir Rosen.

He had every reason to apologize after some of the mean-spirited remarks he made related to the Lara Logan atrocity. And he did apologize, sort of, maybe not.

Nir Rosen"There's probably some larger lesson about social media to be drawn here, and how its immediacy can be great in its power to connect us," Rosen wrote. "But also a liability because something blurted out and not meant to be serious acquires a greater power."

Um, hardly. There is no larger lesson about the immediacy of social media to be learned from Rosen or how things might be taken out of context. There is, however, a lesson that can be drawn from his article. It appears to be the one quality he seems to lack.

Empathy is the most important aspect of an apology.

It's simple. Apologies are meant to be an expression of empathy from the guilty. And, when they are well meant, they might elicit forgiveness. But without empathy, they're empty words — a ploy concocted by public relations and propaganda.

Some public relations professionals advise that apologies are critical to protecting reputation, guilty or not. However, if they are delivered with a lack of empathy, it reveals something worse than no apology at all.

For Toyota, it showed how willing their executives were to trade strength of character for the illusion of reputation. And, for Rosen, it seem obvious that he is only ready to apologize for the damage he caused himself.

In fact, both of them might have fared better with non-apologetic empathy. For example, Toyota executives could have expressed their sympathy for any accident victims and their families while investigating the claims (perhaps offering to help even if they were not at fault). Or, perhaps Rosen could have reflected on how his words could have made sexual assault victims and women feel instead of intellectualizing his dilemma in an article.

And when no one was hurt? Taco Bell might have made the right play. Most people seem to be expressing empathy for them these days. That makes sense. Besides, their tacos only contain one-and-a-half ounces of seasoned beef anyway.
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