What would you do if your company was accused of Satanism? That was the question Outback Steakhouse had to answer--quickly--this past Thursday. The restaurant chain's stores tend to be deployed in an equidistant way around the perimeters of major metropolitan areas. That's probably the result of a carefully thought out corporate policy, but some Twitter observers decided it meant something else.
The trouble began when a Twitter user with the handle @eatmyaesthetics tweeted connect-the-dots maps of Outback Steakhouses in and around New York, Indianapolis, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Decatur, Georgia:
Wtf is Outback Steakhouse planning pic.twitter.com/l1CSafkdOK-- balenci-who? aga ☭ (@eatmyaesthetics) July 27, 2017
Other Twitter users jumped in with pictures of Outback Steakhouse map pentagrams from Orlando to Silicon Valley. Outback pentagrams are pretty much everywhere, it seems.
Yup, same in Bay Area California. Illuminati Confirmed. pic.twitter.com/0mUJp1UtCz-- Errol Apparel (@ErrolApparel) July 29, 2017
The people who tweeted these images seemed like they were doing so with tongue in cheek. But, as Outback execs must be aware, if the meme spread, it could turn very un-funny very fast.
So what did Outback's social media team and marketing department do while people were trading pentagram maps on Twitter? What they didn't do is probably much more important. They didn't issue denials. They didn't reach out to the pentagram tweeters and ask them to take down their tweets or threaten them with defamation lawsuits. They also didn't forget that when it comes to social media, a good sense of humor can be the most powerful tool of all.
And so, Friday morning @Outback tweeted this:
It was a brilliant response that quickly defused any danger of the Outback Satanist pentagram meme turning into a real thing.
Not quite good enough for Twitter user @FlySkyRich who responded, "Nah we're on to you devil restaurant."
"If the Bloomin' Onion is evil, then we don't want to be nice," @Outback shot back.
"For real though let me get a $25 gift card or $25 worth of the black bread," @FlySkyRich answered. Outback's smart social media team, responded quickly and with generosity: "Send us a DM and we'll hook you up. For real."
So of course, a bunch of other Twitter users began raising their hands and tweeting "Me too please," or words to that effect. Then someone found a much more benign way to connect the dots between Outback Steakhouses around Nashville:
And just like that, what could have been an irksome public relations incident was over. In fact, it had transformed into a positive publicity event.
There's a lesson here for anyone who's ever fretted about getting caught up in the bizarre twists and turns of social media. Don't go all corporate, don't get angry, and above all, don't panic. A funny image and a few gift cards could turn the whole thing in your favor.