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Apologies have become a part of the viral internet culture. A video of someone getting thrown off a plane, some chicken goes missing or maybe a tweet from the past comes to haunt you. These can all let your brand spin out of control in just a few short hours.

It has become part of the cycle of the internet. After the PR nightmare comes the apology. After the apology comes news coverage of the quality of the apology; and articles reviewing the content and authenticity of your ‘sorry’. Because, if anything is going to be authentic, it has to be your apology. 

Surprisingly, it’s pretty rare in the sea-of-sorries to hear an honest one. Why is it that, in the age of transparency, companies still can’t seem to care?

Fox News came under fire recently for inadvertently using a photograph of soul singer Patti LaBelle as part of their coverage of the passing of Aretha Franklin.

Fox made an honest mistake. By that, I mean that they didn’t intentionally use a photo of the wrong person. You can fault them for poor research, lack of proofing, or fact-checking, but I’m pretty sure they wish they could get a do-over.

Here’s the real problem: An insincere apology.

Jessica Santostefano, Vice President — Media Desk at Fox News, issued the apology for their mistake:

“We sincerely apologize to Aretha Franklin’s family and friends. Our intention was to honor the icon using a secondary image of her performing with Patti LaBelle in the full-screen graphic, but the image of Ms. Franklin was obscured in that process, which we deeply regret.”

LaBelle and Franklin both performed at a 2014 White House concert, but the network’s explanation for the error doesn’t fly. It didn’t take the internet long to show that Franklin didn’t appear at all in the photograph of LaBelle that formed the basis of the graphic.

By trying to explain or “cover” for an obvious mistake, they lost the power of the authentic apology. They also made the additional mistake of using the word “but”.

‘But’ negates the apology.

Apologizing for a mistake is an opportunity. It’s a chance to show that you are human, fallible, honest, and real. People appreciate it in individuals, governments, and companies.

Apologize. Do it now.

Don’t leave people wondering what your official stance is. Share it with them. You may not have all the details yet or know where to share the blame. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that someone else thinks you made a mistake. It is best to own it and apologize. Then you can demonstrate that you learn from your mistakes and are committed to correcting them in the future.

Keep it short and sweet

Say you’re sorry. That is it. No need for a 30-minute video justifying your actions, or a seven-page media release on the matter. This can quickly turn into a “We’re sorry, but…” situation.

Don’t shift blame

Shockingly, in almost all of these bad apologies, it is rarely explicitly their fault. “The staff for the day didn’t know”, “He hired a third party company”, “We never got your message”; this is the same as the “sorry, but”. You are responsible for your employees and their actions. *cough* fox news *cough*

At Muse, our core approach to branding and marketing lies in authenticity. One of the most critical times to be authentic is when you are apologizing for a mistake.