Invariably, the reporters covering the story get in touch with whatever social media or public relations experts they can have on speed dial AND can actually reach, to comment on the impact of the negative press on the corporate brand and reputation. (In the interest of transparency, I am one of those people having provided more than a quote or two to USA Today. )
I'm prone to take a very different perspective, looking at any of these incidents from the measurement perspective, considering the ultimate impact of the incident on employee morale and the bottom line.
I learned along time ago that PR practitioners love to flagellate their colleagues for presumed PR failings, when in fact there may be no impact whatsover. I was recently in a meeting where a very practiced and effective PR guy told the story about how he was "beaten up" by his management for what they perceived was a disastrous appearance on a late night comedy show. And yes, there were aspects of the story that were cringeworthy but I immediatley went to the metrics, and analyzed the company's Google Analytics report for the 24 hours before and after the so-called disaster. As it turns out traffic spiked within minutes of the appearance and registrations (membership) increased by 3% that day. What's the disaster in that?
Smart organizations do that kind of thing every day. Sure, you can demonostrate a correlation between negative publicity and lower sales, particularly in the food business. But there is far more consistent evidence to link employee engagement with bottom line profit driven by lower turnover, improved customer loyalty, shorter sales cycles, and greater efficiency.
History has shown that organizations that looks at social media criticism as an opportunity to improve far far better than those like Applebees that throw employees under the bus. The bottom line impact to Applesbees, I suspect, will be that the talent they want won't want them. If you want to avoid the next crisis, you might want to start by reading this.