The power of the internet and social media can change lives forever. All it takes is a single social post without fully thinking the consequences. What may seem like a trivial and innocent post can escalate into an enormous globally famous incident.

Applebees ReceiptYou have most likely heard the recent story of an Applebee’s employee, Chelsea Welch, who posted a copy of a receipt to Reddit that has gained significant attention over the past week. After a customer crossed out a mandatory 18% tip on her bill and wrote “I Give God 10% Why do you Get 18″

After this photo (with Signature intact) made its rounds on Reddit it had quickly generated thousands of comments as users tried to track down the customer. Pastor Alois Bell ultimately came forward after seeing the receipt complete with her signature online and complained to Applebee’s. Welch was ultimately fired for the incident.

As of the writing of this post the reddit entry has gained 4352 comments. A petition has also been started at stating that if Applebee’s rehire Chelsea, the undersigned agree to eat at the restaurant at least once in 2013. So far 8192 people have signed the petition.

While there are two sides to every story, and while Chelsea did violate the privacy of the customer and was likely fired with grounds, the social world is in an uproar over her dismissal and Applebee’s is experiencing a definite social backlash.

On Friday Applebee’s posted three Facebook updates about the incident explaining their side. The first garnered more than 20,000 comments before it was hidden, the second more than 13,000 comments with the third getting 22,000. The majority of these comments from fans are negative with people threatening to never eat at the chain again.

The crux of Applebee’s grounds for dismissal is that Welch violated the privacy of one of their customers. This is interesting as earlier this year Applebee’s posted a note to their official Facebook page complete with customer name. After the incident with Welch this past post was quickly removed .

Applebees Positive Note

Applebee’s probably would have been best off laying low on Facebook when the comments started flying on their post, but instead, whoever manages their account began commenting on the original status update. They posted a detailed post at 2:53 am on a post that was gaining more than 1000 comments an hour. There is virtually no way that anyone would be able to find the comment as it became buried in the thread.

This sparked a “PR Nightmare” as users began tearing into Applebee’s. Applebee’s then began repeating their post time and time again while tagging followers. This simply made things worse, as then Applebee’s began arguing with their customers via Facebook.

Later the next morning, the original post from Applebee’s that had generated more than 20,000 comments was hidden by the chain which sparked even more controversy.

In this story there is no winner. Whether Applebee’s is correct in terminating Welch or not is irrelevant – their Facebook catastrophe spiraled out of control and no doubt Applebee’s would have been better off laying low when it comes to the comments. If they will see any long term effects over this is yet to be seen, but according to  they have not had any significant dips in their Facebook likes but they have seen their continual growth plateau. No way of knowing for sure if this is due to increased likes coinciding with un-liking, or just no further growth in the past few days.

SocialBakers - Applebees Fans

If there is one clear-cut lesson to be learned here. No matter what side of the story you fall on, carefully consider the ramifications of your social posts before you click submit!

You can find a rather detailed post with more info on how this story has unfolded loaded with screenshots at RL Stollars blog.

So what are your thoughts? Should Welch get her job back? Was Applebee’s right in firing her? Sound off in the comments below!