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Razor Sharp Burgers: A Lesson in Crisis Communication

Recently a Burger King customer discovered a razor blade between her cheeseburger in Willits, California. An investigation into the incident revealed that it was not a prank, but the result of a questionable practice by a Burger King franchisee that allowed loose razor blades to be used for cleaning.

Luckily no one was hurt in this incident. Although the crisis happened 10 days ago, the story has went viral with over 605 tweets and 126,281 impressions. Has Burger King employed an effective crisis communication strategy? Lets examine two elements of effective crisis management, communication and organizational stance.

Communication

No matter the crisis, an organization must implement a communication plan to ensure that the public and the media are well informed. In Burger King’s case they have only released a minimal amount of information about the incident. In a phone interview with USA Today a company spokesperson, Miguel Piedra said “Food safety is a top priority for Burger King restaurants globally…Burger King Corp’s strict food handling procedures clearly outline that razor blades are not permitted in or near food preparation areas at any time.”

Although this statement clearly highlights the company’s concern over the incident, they have not issued any formal press releases on their Corporate Newsroom webpage and have not responded to the incident on Facebook or Twitter.

This delay in communication is troubling in the age of social media. News travels fast and companies must quickly unitize all their communication channels to inform the public.

Organizational Stance

When faced with a crisis, a company must determine its stance or position for dealing with the conflict. In most cases a company will choose either an accommodative or defensive stance. Burger King appears to have adopted a more accommodative strategy, acknowledging the crisis and taking corrective action (i.e., reinforcing food preparation procedures, retraining staff, removing razor blades from the franchisee).

However, the company has made it clear that it was an isolated incident that happened at a franchisee, not a company owned or operated store. Here the company is rationalizing the incident, which can be perceived as a defensive stance.

Conflict Resolution

Has Burger King handled the incident effectively? Regrettably there are no clear-cut solutions to handling a crisis situation.

At first glance, it appears that Burger King was very restrictive in informing the public about the incident. An early and immediate dialogue with the public might have curtailed the story from going viral.

In addition, the lack of social media response calls into question the company’s social media strategies. With over 160,000 Twitter followers and 6 million Facebook “likes” it’s puzzling as to why the company has not issued a response to this issue using social media channels.

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