Apr 23, 2009

Can we prevent viral brand-bashing attacks?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: branding

As if the recession weren’t challenge enough for business, brand execs have a new scenario to keep them awake at night: random, viral brand-trashing via social media.

The recent victim: Domino’s Pizza. Two employees in Conover, N.C., filmed an unsanitary prank in the restaurant’s kitchen and posted it to YouTube. In a matter of days the video had more than a million views and Twitter (and major media) were buzzing with it. Domino’s quality reputation metrics took a nosedive that appeared undeserved but beyond the company’s grasp.

It’s a PR nightmare at the warp speed of social media. Reputations are made or massacred online, and we are all potential targets. But what steps can we take to guard against impulsive social-media brand-trashing by employees or even the occasional disgruntled consumer?

I opened up the question and invited colleagues and competitors to share their views via Facebook, Twitter and Peter Shankman’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out) network. The sheer volume and quality of responses made clear what a hot topic this is. I’ve included some of them here (and will post more later), and hope you’ll use the Comments section to contribute your thoughts.

Megan Casserly of Weber Shandwick shared her agency’s recent study (in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit) “Risky Business: Reputations Online,” which found that 67 percent of leading global executives acknowledge that their companies’ reputations are threatened in today’s economy. These executives cite employee sabotage and misdirected e-mails among their greatest concerns.

So we know it’s a threat, and we’ve seen it happen, but what are companies really willing to do about it?

PR professional Dan Collins thinks Domino’s should have already had a social media presence in place, to give it a ready, instant link to its consumers: “Domino’s had to quickly create a Twitter account to respond—in the meantime, precious hours and days were passing by. Its strategy of doing as little as possible in hopes the crisis would simply pass away didn’t take into account the incredible viral nature of issues like this on the Web. People were Twittering their complaints and concerns and there was no response. Nothing gets people riled more than to believe they are being ignored—that just made matters exponentially worse.”

Interbrand’s Mike Langton advises other food companies to take notice and use this as both a warning and a learning experience: “This could happen in a Burger King or anywhere else. Competitors need to show how it could not happen in their kitchens.”

Via Twitter:

· rpulvino @mariansalzman All food companies are vulnerable to this. It is up to employers to instill empathy in the employees … make them think

· eddiemart @mariansalzman Opp for the food service industry as a whole to address this issue. Use SM tools to show good business practices

Let me know your thoughts—post them in the Comments section here.

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