A story is spiraling viral right now and it goes something like this. This past Tuesday an elementary school decided it was O.K. to allow little children (ages 7 -10) to select their lunches and walk to the register where lunch staff took the child’s tray (depending on whether or not child had an unpaid balance) and dumped his/her food into the trashcan! Offending children were then given a carton of milk and a piece of fruit and told to sit down.

The local paper got their hands on the story and by Wednesday night the district published a lukewarm apology on their Facebook page. Even worse, below the apology is the following post, “Help fight child hunger through the Souper Bowl of Caring! Child poverty and hunger are reaching alarming levels in Utah…” Salt Lake City School District might as well have dug their own grave, jumped into it, and danced in the dirt.

Here are 3 social media management takeaways generously gifted to us by the Salt Lake City SD:

1.  Apologize properly. Don’t ever begin an apology with an explanation. If the media’s been involved people already know what happened and an explanation sounds a lot like an excuse.  Begin with a thoughtful, compassionate apology stating not only how you will hold the offending party(ies) accountable but also how you will make amends to those who have been harmed.

2.  Avoid appearing hypocritical. Granted, this is impossible for Salt Lake City SD.  Their job is care for, teach, and protect children.  They failed miserably.  In addition, their lukewarm  apology for taking food away from hungry children above their “Help Fight Child Hunger” post is inordinately stupid. Fact is, they should have taken the Help Fight Child Hunger  Facebook post down.

3.  Communicate with your audience. Organizations who ignore or delete negative comments appear as though they are beyond reproach. Even if they don’t feel this way, their refusal to acknowledge and respond to complaints or concerns smacks of disregard.  Even worse, stand by your offensive policies showing no interest in accountability and make comments like, “Jason Olsen, a district spokesman reiterated on Thursday that physically taking lunches away from students was a mistake. He said schools may, however, continue to withhold full lunches from students (whose parents) who are behind on payments…”   

The Salt Lake City School District fiasco is just beginning and, as they dig in their heels and defend what can only be seen as a cruel policy, they seal their fate.  Is there any hope for this district? If you were their social media or PR manager, what would you do differently?
Update: As of 12:00 p.m. on Friday (1/31/14) the Salt Lake City School District Facebook apology post has over 6,700 negative comments on it  shaming the district and calling them bullies.  The district has not responded to one of them nor have they updated their Facebook page with a new post.  

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