You’re probably familiar with the Notes app apology that brands post on Instagram or Twitter. Or maybe you know its twin, the infamous influencer apology, complete with crocodile tears on camera.
From popular creators to celebrities to corporations, social media has become the face of the public apology. Social media managers and communication professionals must craft tactful corporate apologies—or else they risk facing even more backlash during a brand crisis. And customer care reps are all too familiar with disgruntled clients.
Admitting you made a mistake can feel tough and emotional. When you’re doing it on behalf of a brand, it can feel even more stressful. Today, people want a sincere apology and they aren’t afraid to call out their favorite brands if it’s lackluster. Creating a Notes app apology or press release simply isn’t enough sometimes.
We’ll show you how to draft a quality brand apology, along with nine examples so you can be prepared when it’s your turn to say sorry.
Public apology 101: How (and when) to make a brand apology
Perhaps your company didn’t deliver a package on time or a leader made an insensitive comment during a pivotal cultural moment. Regardless of the situation, several pillars of drafting an apology remain the same. Here are four things you should do when drafting a brand apology:
One of the worst things you can do is not acknowledge the mistake. A sincere apology admits wrongdoing and the best public apologies explain why.
Taking ownership and remaining transparent about the brand’s role in the situation can ease the public’s qualms. Even if other parties were involved, steer away from shifting blame. Instead focus on the brand’s role in the situation.
In some scenarios, a company can’t take full accountability for legal reasons. But remember, the main point is to acknowledge the wrongdoings and how they impacted the aggrieved party. In these cases, collaborate with your legal counsel and public relations teams to shape an apology that doesn’t incriminate but still shows sympathy.
Show empathy and remorse
If your apology lacks empathy or contrition, the public may interpret your brand as tone-deaf and remorseless. Make it clear the brand empathizes with the victims involved and understands why customers are upset.
Social media is all about personal connection, so embrace the human side. Step into your customer’s shoes: what would you like to hear in a heartfelt apology?
Listen before speaking
You should work fast to issue an apology, but make time to understand your audience through social listening. It’s difficult to craft a genuine apology without knowing why your audience is upset.
Why are they upset? What actions are they demanding? Social listening data can help you answer these types of questions because it provides more context to online conversations beyond the brand’s network.
You can tap into your audience’s feelings by measuring sentiment, the scope of conversations and more. This allows you to shape a public apology that directly addresses their feedback. Essentially, social listening allows you to be a fly on the wall, so don’t hesitate to use it to your advantage.
Communicate a plan for redemption
In a Sprout survey, 89% of people said a business can regain their trust if it admits to a mistake and is transparent about the steps it will take to resolve the issue.
In your apology, state what your brand is doing to resolve the issue, along with any preventative measures you will implement to avoid similar situations in the future.
In some cases, you won’t be able to deal with the specifics of corrective actions right away. For instance, you might be in the early stages of the crisis or facing issues surrounding legality or brand safety. That’s okay—this is where transparency comes in.
The dos and don’ts of sharing company apologies on social media
We’ve covered the four pillars of drafting a public apology, now let’s cover some quick dos and don’ts of brand apologies on social media.
Do: Be proactive
What’s the best way to recover from a brand crisis? Prevent it from happening in the first place. You can use social media to minimize a brand crisis. Remember to use social listening to help keep your ear to the ground. Use it to gauge whether or not you should comment on a social or political movement or participate in a trend.
Don’t: Gaslight the aggrieved
Avoid saying a message was misinterpreted or the “I’m sorry you took offense to that” apology. It can come off as cold and unsympathetic.
Also, avoid focusing too much on positive intent. Even if you mean well, it doesn’t take away from the damage. Think about it this way: If you dropped a bowling ball on your best friend’s foot, an apology wouldn’t stop the pain—you would get them medical attention or even nurse them back to health.
Do: Embrace transparency
You may not have all the answers, but you can let your audience know the brand recognizes the issue(s) and is working to resolve it. Provide one action item your team is currently doing and communicate that your team will continue to provide updates once more information is available.
Here’s an example:
After a thorough review by our internal team, we have begun the process of creating new procedures and protocols to prevent this situation from happening again. Due to our ongoing investigation, we are unable to present all of the details at this time, but once these new initiatives are implemented, we will share more information. Our team is doing xyz to handle the situation currently. Thank you for your patience as we work towards rectifying the situation with the respect and forethought it deserves.
Do: Fulfill your promises by doing the work
Show your audience you’re truly sorry through ongoing actions until the issue is resolved. Implement initiatives that will help the affected in the future. Actions speak volumes, so always look for ways to work towards redemption.
Redemption isn’t overnight. A singular apology isn’t enough depending on the severity of the situation. If you’re dealing with sensitive topics such as racism or toxic workplace culture, your brand needs to do more than make a statement on social media. It will take months, or even years to fully recover. You might even need to hire a DEI expert or crisis consultant to help you create a plan.
The road to redemption doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a journey so embrace it by continuing to do the work.
9 public apology examples to bookmark for your social strategy
Saying you’re sorry can be tough, but these public apology examples are a masterclass in owning up to your mistakes:
Apologies in pop culture
Grammy award-winning artist Lizzo received a swarm of backlash online after the drop of her single, “Grrrls”, which many fans said included an ableist slur. Lizzo and her team acted fast, re-recorded the single and released a statement on social media.
Lizzo accomplishes several things in a short apology: she acknowledges the mistake, she identifies why she sympathizes with her audience and ends with an actionable step to redeem herself. Lizzo’s personal brand is all about inclusivity and self-love, so her apology feels sincere and spot on.
2. The Hollywood Reporter
One thing we all know is that you don’t mess with comic book fans, especially Marvel fans. In early July 2022, the Hollywood Reporter came under fire on Twitter for its confusing headline about Anthony Mackie reprising his role as the new Captain America.
The headline read, “Anthony Mackie is reprising his long-time Marvel character of Sam Wilson, but will not, however, portray Wilson’s long-time alter ego and #CaptainAmerica sidekick, Falcon.”
Marvel fans were not happy and urged the entertainment publication to simply call him the new Captain America.
He’s Captain America. This is not up for debate. This is a fact. As for “who is entitled to the shield”, Sam is. Sam is who Steve gave that shield to. Sam deserves to be Cap, and Anthony Mackie deserves some more respect. This is a shameful headline.
— vee 🦇 behrad tarazi thirst squad™️ (@dametokillfor) July 8, 2022
And you know it’s bad when Chris Evans has to step in:
Sam Wilson is Captain America
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) July 9, 2022
The Reporter responded to Evans’ tweet and used it as an opportunity to apologize. Their apology was short and sweet, but still acknowledged they made a mistake.
Corporate apologies to current customers
3. Abbott Labs
CEO of Abbott Laboratories, Robert Ford, apologized for his company’s role in the national baby formula shortage via an op-ed in the Washington Post. In the article, he apologized for “every family we’ve let down” and explained what caused the recall of their formula.
He also noted the company’s plan to avoid a shortage in the future, including restarting one of its facilities in early June 2022 and prioritizing baby formula over the company’s adult products.
The CEO of Abbott Laboratories apologized Saturday for his company’s role in the nationwide shortage of baby formula and promised production will ramp up again in June: “We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down.” https://t.co/Z6qsjf8wWA
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) May 22, 2022
Some argue this isn’t the most accessible apology (the Washington Post has a paywall), but it’s a great example of a crisis that requires a long-form approach. Although not everyone has access to a Washington Post subscription, the company received mass coverage from several reputable publications, including the Wall Street Journal, pushing the apology to the masses beyond social media.
Not every apology has to be super serious. In 2013, Skittles replaced their legacy lime-flavored candy with green apple and customers have been begging the brand to bring it back ever since.
In September 2021, the candy brand announced the return of its lime-flavored candies. They followed up in 2022 with an apology tour complete with social posts, sports sponsorships and more.
Skittles live streamed a press conference on Twitch and YouTube. On the stream, a spokesperson apologized for replacing the beloved lime flavor and read real comments from social media.
They also teased the press conference on TikTok.
Skittles’ apology tour matches the brand’s humorous, lighthearted voice, and is a great example of balancing the famed public apology with a marketing campaign.
In 2013, hackers stole 40 million credit card records and 70 million customer records from Target. As a result, the big-box retailer needed to take several steps to regain the trust of its customers and the public.
Target released several written apologies detailing what they did to stop the breach, including a full-page newspaper advertisement detailing their plans to restore security and help affected customers.
The company replaced their Redcards with chip and pin technology, installed new payment terminals, offered free credit card monitoring services to customers for one year and gave an extended discount.
Not only did Target take several measures for redemption, but the brand also included the situation on its company page as a milestone, linking to a blog post giving readers a behind-the-scenes look. Rather than trying to forget about the pitfall, Target branded the data breach as an opportunity that led them to being a leader in cyber security.
Target’s effort is a great illustration of how brands can do more than just apologize. They went above the standard by implementing a communications campaign to keep their audience updated on changes and how they’re making things right long term.
Apologies for missed expectations
Along with its beloved chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A is known for its incredible customer service. So it’s no surprise their customer care on social media is just as good. They frequently interact with customers in their Instagram comments.
If someone has a question, complaint or concern, Chick-fil-A apologizes immediately and provides next steps to help the customer.
For complex or specific issues, they provide patrons with a customer service number and an online form to complete, allowing the customer to get help at their own pace.
TikToker, food critic and pro MMA fighter, Keith Lee called out the water company after having a bad experience at a brand event. In his TikTok vlog, he films flooded floors, dirty cups, unsanitary food—the list goes on. He also mentions spending $100 after leaving the event since he couldn’t eat any food because of his shellfish allergy and food safety concerns.
Evian listened and righted the wrong by giving him a $100 gift card and a mini-fridge filled with products. In result, Lee felt the brand sympathized with him and he posted a follow-up video explaining how the brand went above and beyond to apologize.
We were under the impression that this was an official unveiling, tasting and exclusive presentation for a new product when in fact nothing was presented or unveiled, water was just sitting on the table with no explanation or true presentation . If it was presented as a party at the beach club with water we would have never came ! We’ll take the L but ive always been transparent with my family here and that wont change , God bless you 🙏🏽💕 #foodcritic
Evian shows how food brands can give a meaningful apology by listening. Everyone loves a free gift, but what stands out the most is how the brand listened to a specific complaint. Since the brand listened, the aggrieved party ended up coming to their defense in the end.
In 2017, the wrong movie was announced as the winner of the Best Picture category at the Oscars. If you remember that night, social media was in a frenzy.
PwC has counted votes for the Oscars for decades, and instead of drawing out the situation, they quickly took ownership, apologized and were able to move on.
FedEx also uses Instagram comments to help facilitate customer service. As you would expect, most negative messages address missing or delayed packages.
FedEx representatives respond to these comments, apologizing for the inconvenience and then providing next steps to help the customer, including a case number and a form.
It’s okay to say sorry, you just need the right plan
Now that you know how to craft a sincere apology and have a few brand examples under your belt for inspiration, you’ll know what to do if your brand is ever in the hot seat.
Handling public apologies with grace is just one part of brand reputation management.
Read our guide on how to create a social media crisis communication plan to learn more.