Monday, April 20, 2009

PR and Damage Control in the Age of Twitter

Ashton, Oprah, Dominos, and Susan. Names that have one important thing in common - they were all involved in seminal social media events. I don't know if last week was the tipping point for the phenomenon we call social media, or not, but it sure felt like it to me.

Gaga over a middle-aged, plump, frizzy-haired goddess.
On Saturday, April 11th, the by now galactically famous episode of "Britain's Got Talent" aired in the UK and the glorious Susan Boyle entranced an audience of skeptics with a voice of extraordinary beauty. The official YouTube posting of the performance appeared almost immediately and garnered over 800,000 viewings in 24 hours. By Wednesday, the video had been viewed 5.6 million times and, as of today, the video reports over 32 million views. According to an article in Mashable, however, tracking company, Visible Measures, that tracks over 150 video sharing sites, counted 93.2 million views on Sunday and predicted that number would hit over 100 million today. Although the press covered the YouTube frenzy, it was e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook that spread the word, person to person. The kinds of information that are typically spread in this way, like jokes, urban legends, apocryphal stories, and corporate blunders, have never quite hit the numbers necessary show the footdraggers that we are no longer operating in beta - social media has launched. But after witnessing how quickly the world can coalesce into a massive and powerful communication organism, only the staunchest Luddite can deny the shift. And they do so at their own peril.

Ummm, make mine without cheese.
And peril is exactly what Dominos Pizza found itself in last Monday when two astoundingly stupid Dominos employees posted a video on YouTube showing one of them stuffing cheese up his nose before he used it to garnish a pizza, among other health code violations. That evening, Tim McIntyre, a Dominos spokesperson, was alerted to the video by someone who'd seen it online. When company executives learned about the video the next day, they made a fatefully disastrous decision to do nothing in the hopes of not fueling the fire. With no presence or experience in social media, they were sadly unaware that information is no longer controlled by corporations or by the press. Technology has set it free, put it in the hands of the public, and it dances to its own tune these days. There are new rules for corporate communication, and the rules say the conversation is happening, with or without you. If you don't proactively own it, someone else will. On Wednesday, with its reputation damaged and perception of quality in negative numbers, Dominos opened a Twitter account and posted a video on YouTube of it's CEO, Patrick Doyle, offering a heartfelt apology. It's a start, but when Mr. McIntyre was quoted in a NY Times article the next day saying, “Well, we were doing and saying things, but they weren’t being covered in Twitter,” I suspect there's still a bit of a learning curve. Social media isn't broadcast. If the company isn't using it to monitor and participate in conversations, they're missing the point.

Dude, where's your tweeps?
Late Thursday night, Ashton Kutcher became the first person on the planet to snag one million followers on Twitter, beating out his rival, CNN, by only a few hours and a couple of thousand followers. And what does that have to do with anything? Well, look at it this way: A 31-year old college drop-out actor, famous for producing a show about pulling pranks on celebs has succeeded in aggregating a willing listening audience of 1 million people, while the MBA suits at Dominos, who launched their Twitter account with the obtuse name of dpzinfo, have managed, in the midst of the most press they've ever had, to only round up 1,333 followers. And Oprah? She opened her Twitter account on Friday. As of today, 3 days later, she has 424,986 followers.

And now, on an entirely personal note, a message to Susan Boyle: My dear, you sing for all of the underestimated, ignored, written-off women of the world. Your voice is an instrument played with unimaginable grace and purity. But what moves me to tears is you, as you stand there, sloughing off 47 years of being invisible, confident in your gift and knowing that, at last, you are on the right stage, at the right time. You knew what you had, and now all the world is gaga over a middle-aged, plump, frizzy-haired goddess. Brava!

social media, Susan Boyle, Ashton Kutcher, Dominos Pizza, Oprah, You Tube, Twitter, Facebook


Dallas Lawrence said...

You are absolutely correct about the importance of using social media to monitor and participate on conversations about your brand. However, when a crisis strikes, an immediate and transparent response is the best way to mitigate potential long term damage. When a crisis erupts online, we counsel clients that their response time is measured in minutes, not hours. Your crisis team needs to meet, develop initial – and authentic – response messages, and communicate to stakeholders before the online masses are able to set the tone. The unprecedented speed with which information now travels – in Domino’s case hundreds of thousands of potential customers viewed a devastatingly brand-damaging video before the company was able to respond – means that your communications team must be prepared to respond in real time. Read more at Bulletproof Blog:

Linda Ziskind said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Dallas. I agree that response to crisis has to be immediate and transparent. And that's the beauty of social media. A great example is a recent incident with Ford. Last Dec., Ford sent a cease & desist order to an indie Ford fan site. The site's owner blogged about being bullied by Ford and the next morning the blogosphere and twitterverse were buzzing with negative Ford comments. Scott Monty, Ford's social media guy was alerted via Twitter. At the same time Monty was doing all of the convention tactics, i.e. talking to Ford's legal dept. for facts, (the fan site had been selling unlicensed Ford products & the letter was meant to end that), drafting a public response, contacting the site owner, and working with legal to revise the letter, he was Tweeting about everything. He posted real-time, transparent, factual, information keeping everyone up to date on what was happening. He also asked his followers to retweet his messages to further the reach. Within 24 hours Ford legal and the site owner had reached an agreement, the site owner blogged about his satisfaction and crisis was averted. Twitter and Facebook are two of the most powerful crises management tools a company can have. They don't require a trip to a company's website and they have incredible exponential reach.

Allyson said...

Hey there stranger:

I just found your blog at random - how cool!

Does the email account listed on the homepage here work for you - I'd love to get in touch -it has been ages.

Also, I am now following you on twitter - emmastia is my screen name.

Would love to catch up - it has been way too long

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