The Lesson You Should Have Learned from Chick-Fil-A

We recently had an opportunity to learn some very important lessons from mistakes others have made in public relations, business ownership and social communications.

I’m sure you remember the reports and the responses about Chick-Fil-A’s CEO and his position on what the company gives money to. This is not a debate about that position being right or wrong. I want to focus on the mistakes made in the communications process and what we as small business owners can learn.

In the situation I’m referring to, Chick-Fil-A’s CEO spoke out on a sensitive subject. Now as an individual he has the right to voice his opinion. However, the public took it to be the stance of the company, especially since money was involved.

Shortly after that, one of Chick-Fil-A’s competitors jumped into the conversation on Twitter and made their own position clear — again as a corporation not an individual — only to find that people who were anti-Chick-Fil-A were equally unimpressed with the “supposed” support the brand was showing them.

We’ve built our businesses, and our customers and potential clients associate us with the business. This means we walk a fine line when it comes to communicating as a business and as an individual. The United States Constitution guarantees our right, as an individual, to freedom of speech. Our customers are less forgiving.

Social media has driven brands to become “human” and to interact with customers in a conversational way. There is a line, though. A line that should not be crossed. Before posting to Facebook, Twitter or making statements to the press, business owners need to think “is this my view, or does it represent how my business runs?”

So the lesson to be learned here is that you shouldn’t always be the voice of your business. While you might feel passionately about a topic, consider whether or not is has a connection to your business. Is there a way you can communicate your passion without alienating your audience? How important is your passion to your business? These are the types of questions that you need to ask yourself before putting your fingers on the keyboard.

The downside of social media and its easy accessibility is precisely that, it is easily accessible. From our desktop, laptop, tablet and phone. Any time we want to share a thought, we can. As business owners we have to be smarter than that and realize that the always-on microphone that is social media is something that has to be used responsibly.

What other takeaways did you find in the Chick-Fil-A situation?

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Simon Salt
Simon is CEO of IncSlingers, and is an author, blogger, writer and entrepreneur. His book on Social Location Marketing was published by QUE, a division of Pearson publications in February 2011. Simon has been published online by Mashable, Read Write Web and others.

6 comments

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  1. Love this post! I learned that anytime money and business is involved; watch what comes out of your mouth. Customers don’t separate you from your business. It’s all one thing to them.
    The Chick-Fil-A situation also taught me that when you “fight” against something (anything), it gives that something a larger forum… which to me, kinda defeats the purpose of the fight.

  2. Before I start this, I don’t expect to change your mind about any of your personal beliefs and I don’t like you any less just because we have different belief systems.

    With that said, there are several issues with your post. I’ll just mention a few.

    First, and I don’t expect you to understand this, but suggesting to a Christian that they are to separate their business from their faith, or deny their faith for fear that it would damage their business is absurd. There are so many issues with that assumption that we couldn’t even hope to start to cover them here. Suffice it to say that there’s no reason to “wear you religion on your sleeve” but there is every expectation that you wouldn’t deny your faith to anyone in any circumstance.

    Second, Dan Cathy was being asked about his personal beliefs when the quote that stirred up so commotion occurred. He wasn’t being asked about official Chick-Fil-A corporate policy, actions, or mission statements.

    Lastly, I think this post is hilarious since you seem to be perfectly comfortable with dismissing other’s religious beliefs online when your name is synonymous with your own business. How does your online behavior mesh with the advice you give in the article?

    To make my point, here’s your facebook post from this past Saturday.

    “Even those with a postgraduate degree believe this nonsense – 42% of Americans with a postgraduate degree believe Humans evolved under the guidance of God.”

    This is so insulting and hurtful to so many people that I can’t help but hope that you do don’t realize what people of faith feel when they see their friends and peers post stuff like this. Do you have ANY CLUE what is does to people’s hearts – and on a much less important level, your business when you attack an entire religion like this? Do you think that the 78% of American’s who believe in God (according to the article you referenced) want to do business with you now?

    On the flip side, I’ll tell you what happened when a private citizen got attacked for simply having a belief system and standing up for it – he was boycotted by the tolerant, loving left. In return, the chain of restaurants he owns experienced a record-setting sales day as supporters thronged to many of its 1,600 locations, causing traffic jams and hours-long waits.

    Think about it and go back and re-read your article. It seems to me that what happened in fact was the exact opposite of what you warn about in this article. And to your point about separating your beliefs from your business – I’d be the first person to stop doing business with someone that is so shallow as to abandon their religious or other cherished beliefs for a quick buck no matter what their religious views are. If someone is so shallow as to deny their faith because the are more concerned about financial gain, then they have no belief system at all.

    And I’ll put this zinger on the end – I love you and I’m prying for you baby! :-)

    • Thank you for your response. I am glad to see there are others who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in. As a small business owner, I thank God everyday for the strides He has helped me make. I am not ashamed to be a Christian. To silence your personal beliefs to keep from “offending” a customer or potential customer is the most ridiculous piece of advice I’ve ever heard. My company exists because of my faith and loyalty to God Almighty and if that “offends” anyone, then they can take their business elsewhere! Rock on Chick-Fil-A! My nearest restaurant is an hour away, but my family eats there every chance we get.

  3. We had a Chick-Fil-A open in San Jose a few days ago. I drove 15 miles yesterday to have lunch there. At 3 pm the place was packed. I enjoyed the best chicken sandwich of my life. I’m only sorry I didn’t have tummy room to sample more CFA products. A CFA staffer came by and offered to refill my soda for me. When was the last time you had that happen in a fast food restaurant?

    The lesson I learned from CFA is to offer the highest quality food and service, and ignore politically-motivated nonsense. I know from the news there were protestors at this store on Friday and the place was even more packed then than it was today.

  4. Great post, Simon! The dividing line between business and personal views is a slippery one, especially for people who associate their own name with the company itself. Before we post anything online these days — as ourselves OR as our company — we need to think about its ramifications. We need to ask questions like: “Is this really what I want to say?” before hitting the publish button. Political views and lifestyle choices are always going to offend SOMEONE, no matter what, but the trick seems to be knowing when to get involved and when to gracefully bow out altogether!

  5. Giovanni
    Firstly, thank you for taking the time to respond to my post – as you know a writer is defined by the ability to engage their readers and getting a comment is a sign of that engagement. I also know that this is an extremely sensitive subject for some people, yourself included and so I am also very thankful that you were able to get your points across in a manner that is both respectful to Small Business Bonfire and the other readers and to myself.

    In my post, in fact in the second paragraph I made it very clear that my post was neither pro nor anti Dan Cathy – “This is not a debate about that position being right or wrong.” The post is about the difference between acting as an individual and acting as a corporate body. The ire that Chick-Fil-A raised was not based solely on Dan Cathy’s interview with the Baptist Post, it was raised because of the donations by Chick-Fil-A to organizations like Exodus International, an organization that promotes the idea that homosexuality can be “cured” and other organizations like the Family Research Council who hold similar views.

    In addition in the post I also pointed out that when a competitor of Chick-Fil-A tried to jump on the bandwagon on Twitter under their corporate account the crowd turned equally on them – people do not want corporate social media accounts being involved in these personal belief situations – which was the point of the post.

    As for the outburst of appreciation shown by consumers for Chick-Fil-A, let’s not forget that it was a carefully engineered political statement put together by former Arkansas Governor and now Fox News pundit Mike Huckabee. So hardly a real world response from consumers and more a political statement by certain segments of society.

    Finally to my own beliefs – firstly I do not take money from my customers and feed it to any organization that promotes policies that disenfranchise certain citizens. Secondly I post my personal thoughts on my Personal Facebook page not my business page – so I clearly delineate between business and personal – which was the topic of the post, I do not use my business to promote my beliefs.

    As for 78% of American’s not wanting to do business with me after my Facebook post – oh that I had that kind of reach.

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