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Crisis Management in a Social Media World

Dining Services at the University of South Florida responded quickly to what is an increasingly pervasive issue for campus dining departments: a Facebook post allegedly showing a photo of an undercooked (in fact, nearly raw) piece of chicken supposedly served in one of its dining halls.

The post collected more than 1,100 likes, 200 shares and 250 comments in its first couple days of online life. Worse, it also spurred students to share other stories about their experiences with food at the campus, and, students being students, most of those experiences weren't flattering to Dining Services at USF. Welcome to the 21st century and to the world of viral PR nightmares, especially in places with lots of young people with lots of time to vent grievances real and imagined to their peers.

But in every problem there is also opportunity, and USF Dining grabbed it. The department responded with a statement (also on Facebook) as soon as it was apparent that this post had legs. In its response, it addressed the specific concern and detailed what actions it took in response. It also invited students to a face-to-face forum to discuss the issue. That's Social Media Proactivity 101.

The response earned USF Dining plaudits from the school's newspaper editorial board and starkly illustrates the emerging nature of customer relations in a social media world where a one-time oversight can quickly grow into a major public relations problem unless addressed quickly and through the most effective channels (which generally involve the same social media platforms that caused the problem in the first place).

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