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People love to talk about when businesses mess up. It’s why stuff like Twitter hacks go viral (and why some companies even fake them). So how do you turn these public mistakes around to earn positive word of mouth from your customers and fans?

Here are three examples of businesses who chose to do something more remarkable when they messed up:

1. Owning up to it > Trying to hide it
2. Your fans’ support > Your own excuses
3. Apologizing to a community > Apologizing to one person

1. Owning up to it > Trying to hide it

When the Chicago Tribune accidentally published a test article on their home page, the internet loved it (mostly because the test image was of a cat). So when Gizmodo featured the slip-up, the Tribune didn’t try to hide from their mistake. Instead, the editor gave Gizmodo an interview. It was a smooth move that earned the Tribune some respect. Their admission to being human is much more interesting, relatable, and noteworthy than a big publication pretending to be perfect.

2. Your fans’ support > Your own excuses

You know what’s more powerful than a great apology? Your fans’ love in return. Marketing consultant Jay Ehret left out a small detail in his email blast that got him a bit of backlash — after all, the email blast was promoting his webinar on branding, and it contained a branding mistake. After apologizing for the mistake, Jay actually got a lot of encouragement back from his fans. But instead of just treasuring them away, Jay featured their kind words in a blog post and thanked the folks who supported him. Imagine how much more insignificant a mistake seems if it’s obvious that a lot of people are already over it.

3. Apologizing to a community > Apologizing to one person

When Fathead sent one customer a giant decal of Tim Tebow instead of the Tom Brady one he ordered, he took to Reddit to complain. And unfortunately for Fathead, the complaint went viral, earning almost 3,000 upvotes and over 600 comments. Most companies would have just apologized and sent the guy the right order. But Fathead saw their viral failure as an opportunity to earn more fans by apologizing to the whole community. The company quickly offered Redditors a special discount using the code NFLOOPS saying, “Buy now, and there’s a good chance we’ll send you the right one!”


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  1. Jay Ehret

    My mistake still lives! …but in a good way.

    After I posted about it on Facebook and then published the blog article, others began sharing their mistakes with me. It was like the scene from Jaws, “yea, but look at my scar.” In the end, owning up to my mistake helped me make more personal connections.

    Jay Ehret
    Dean of Marketing Know-How

  2. Bridgette Cude


    Thanks for the awesome example. It’s even better that you made some meaningful connections out of it. That’s the power of a great apology!

    – Bridgette at WordofMouth.org

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