How to Issue a Public Apology That Doesn’t Incite More Rage


The delicate dance.

Everyone makes mistakes – that’s just part of being human. But when you make a mistake in the public arena, and you’re a business expected to represent the thoughts and values of shareholders and the brand alike, the water gets that little bit more murky.

Case in point: media outlet Mamamia made a hefty misstep yesterday on the eve of Roxane Gay’s memoir release by broadcasting a less than sensitive ‘account’ of her time in Sydney during the book’s promotion. The site issued an apology this morning, but it did little to quell the haemorrhage of online opposition to the original insult, leading the founder and editor, Mia Freedman, to issue her own lengthy effort.

So how do you ensure that your public apology will be received, or believed by your fans or customers? Well, here a few good rules to consider.

Stick to the three ‘Rs’

Straight away, get going on tackling these three concepts: regret, react, reassure. Your first step is acknowledging the mistake and exactly why you regret it and its impact (and don’t even try the old ‘I’m sorry you were offended’ line). Then, you’ll need to show people you’re taking action in the wake of your misstep – it’s not enough at this point to say you’re sorry, you’re going to need to show people what you’ll do about it. Finally, you’ll need to remind the public it’s a one-off and reassure them it will never help you again (make sure you mean it too – it only makes the second and third apologies that much harder).

Consider your medium

Depending on how bad your stuff up is, it’s important to respond using a platform that accurately reflects your level of regret. It’s obvious that you shouldn’t just Tweet your apology if you’ve made a serious boo-boo (but if you’re Carat Media, it might be more than fair to Tweet, especially if your stuff up was on Twitter in the first place).

Keep your message consistent

Remember when United Airlines dragged a blood-stained passenger off one of its flights? The next day the CEO, Oscar Munoz, issued a public apology, but sent one of a different kind to his staff – a memo explaining that he backed their actions 100 per cent reached employees just hours after the initial ‘apology’. Doesn’t exactly build confidence in the company’s authenticity, now does it? Unsurprisingly, his third attempt at an apology didn’t go down well either.

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