Starbucks' response shows how companies must handle crises in the age of social media

Starbucks has responded very cleverly to the public relations crisis arising from an incident in which an employee called the police because of two black men sitting in a store in Philadelphia. The company’s CEO apologized immediately and Starbucks has promised to close all of its American stores for an afternoon next month to conduct training on racial bias for all its employees.

That decision seems to have been made very deliberately; rather than rotate employees through several training timeslots, in a way that would allow stores to stay open, the company is making its solution very visible to all its customers. But it’s a strange outcome to an event that happened at a single store, especially since the employee is no longer with the company. About 40% of Starbucks employees are minorities. Do they need to be taught about racial bias?

While Starbucks can’t really be faulted for its response, this seems less to do with fixing a problem than responding to a threatened boycott. It’s a familiar theme in the age of social media, when hasty judgments can lead to swift punishments in the court of public opinion.

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