What do Public Relations and Classroom Management have in Common?

In his biography ‘My American Journey’ Colin Powell quoted a sign that Casper Weinberger kept over his desk as a reminder. The sign read: “Never get into a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Social media has given everyone the means to figuratively ‘buy ink by the barrel.’ This is especially true in matters that involve perceived injustices, be they logical or emotional. The following article entitled  ‘Applebee’s Overnight Social Media Meltdown: A Photo Essay is a fascinating case study on how not to handle a PR problem in the social media sphere.

As a teacher I see so many parallels to how one can easily mismanage a classroom management situation.  Among the numerous lessons learned during my placements there are two lessons that would have nipped this in the bud. The first lesson is that a class will always side with a student who they perceive as being put on the spot or treated unfairly. Perceived injustice towards one unruly student will soon give you 27-35 unruly students. You have to show how it is the behaviour and not the student that is being brought into question because that behaviour hurts all of us in our classroom community.

The second lesson is that neither logic nor reasoning will ever convince someone to change their view in the heat of the moment. This is especially true if there is a perceived injustice. Sometimes adolescents need to vent and they only get more upset if you try to show them the errors of their thinking. This only makes them stick to their resolve even if they don’t fully believe it anymore. For them it becomes about losing face in front of their peers. They don’t want you, or their peers, to know that they know you were right. So just move on to another topic and let them calm down and think about it. They usually come around quite quickly to your thinking as will be represented in their actions. You should, however, take a moment to discuss the situation privately with them in the hall during that period’s scheduled work time, or at the end of class. It should be short, you should be firm, honest, and constructive by always addressing the behaviour as the issue and not the student.

So keeping these lessons in mind, how should Applebee’s social media team have reacted?

When you read the above mentioned article, you’ll see that Applebee’s almost got it right with their statement at 4:30AM when they addressed the pervading sense of injustice that is motivating this online campaign against them. Their social media team should have left it there; allowed people to have their say, but stand their ground on that statement and move on to a new topic (maybe a coupon campaign or something else.) Any future statement should always speak to the sense of injustice fueling this controversy and point out that even though they disagree with this customer’s actions, they had to fire said employee for treating a customer’s privacy with disregard, and that even the most unpleasant of customers need have their privacy respected. Unfortunately their less than stellar social media team kept arguing online with potential customer that disagreed with their corporate position.

Frankly, considering Applebee’s past infractions, with impunity, of this very policy on numerous occasions online it therefore seems extremely unjust for them to fire Ms Welch. This brings us to the third classroom management lesson that can be applied here : be consistent in your action or you will lose the trust and respect of your students.   Recognizing their own transgressions in the past, Applebee’s should have been more lenient. They should have suspended the employee without pay for a month. The latter is an extremely severe penalty that may have forced Ms Welch to resign. The suspension would have given as strong a message to their customers and their ‘team members.’  I would not be surprised if the fear of a lawsuit from Pastor  Bell may have precipitated Applebee’s decision to fire Ms Welch.



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