Domino’s Debacles Offers Latest Evidence That Brand Tracking, Being Social Matter

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The Domino’s Pizza brand took a hit earlier this week after two employees posted a prank video on YouTube showing disgusting things being done to sandwiches supposedly intended for delivery to customers. The Consumerist tracked the video to its sources at a Conover, NC franchise (ugh, my home state!) and contacted Domino’s, enabling the company to respond quickly. The video had already done it’s damage, however, and even the New York Times has now picked up the story.

I generally prefer not to use alarmist examples to suggest how important monitoring your brand or personal reputation online can be, or how helpful already being engage in the social Web can be when any sort of crisis arises. There are plenty of more positive, proactive reasons to be doing these things. Still, the Domino’s example – along with other recent examples from Motrin and Amazon – does certainly help to make the point.

It’s important to realize, too, that this is not just a big company phenomenon. To illustrate that point, here’s a story from one of my recent newsletters about a small, local company that was impacted by events on the social Web.

Watching Your Back on the Wild, Wild Web

I recently met with the president – let’s call him Bill – of a small, local auto service chain to discuss how his company might take advantage of social media to attract and retain customers. A number of ideas came up. We talked about a blog to provide ongoing service tips to customers and prospects. We also talked about leveraging Facebook to tap into some of the communities most relevant to the company. This all seemed valuable and headed in the right direction.

And then he told me about the attack.

It seems that several months back, a commenter on a popular local listserv posted a complaint about the company. Apparently, this person had received bad service at one of the stores and was disgruntled about it. The initial post led to a stream of negative responses from other listserv subscribers and then was picked up by a popular local blog that threw gas on the fire.

Bill was understandably upset by the event, but he was also fortunate in many ways. One of his employees saw the negative postings early on and the company responded by apologizing to the customer who made the original post, refunding his money, and providing data about customer satisfaction scores across its stores. (The company does a great job of collecting this data, and its satisfaction scores are very high.)

Additionally, a number of customers chimed in to defend the company’s reputation. While clearly some damage was done, the company came through it all with a lot of valuable feedback from customers and new connections to the community. On the whole, I’d say the experience was net positive, but it easily could have been otherwise.

Bill’s story prompted a number of thoughts:

First, I had not fully appreciated the extent to which even small, local organizations can be impacted by social media. Stories abound of large organizations experiencing this sort of thing, but they are no longer alone. And note that this story concerns a very tangible, offline business.  (See also Do You Sell Camel in Riyadh?)

Related to the first point, the importance of monitoring your organization’s brand online is now crystal clear. This is really no longer an optional activity. If you haven’t put all of the basics of brand tracking in place for your organization, doing so should be at the top of your “to do” list for 2009. (See 10 Tools for Monitoring Your Brand)

Tracking, though, is only one part of the equation. If you aren’t an active participant in the Web communities most relevant to you, you aren’t in much of a position to defend yourself should you ever need to do so. Bill’s company benefitted from having built great customer relationships over the years. Customers who are willing to speak up will always sound more “authentic” than organizational representatives, but nonetheless, Bill’s company – and yours – would benefit from developing its own authentic presence in relevant web communities.

Finally, it’s important to note that if you Google Bill’s company at this point, none of the negative postings come up within the first two pages of results – which is about as far as 99.9 percent of searchers are ever likely to look. Bill’s company has done a good job of optimizing its own Web site. (See Checking in on SEO Essentials for the New Year) as well as setting up profiles on a number of local directories where, to the company’s credit, many positive reviews have been posted.

While he may feel a bit beaten up by the experience, Bill and his company came through it all well. In fact, because the company was able to act quickly and many customers came to its defense, the longer term impact will probably be quite positive.

How would your organization do in a similar situation? As Bill’s case illustrates, even small organizations can’t ignore the question anymore. The best protection, of course, is to run a good business and keep your customers or members happy. But it pays to be prepared as well. I recommend  checking out the links above on brand monitoring and search engine optimization (SEO) and also, if you haven’t already, spending some time in the coming month familiarizing yourself with key online community tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Jeff Cobb
Hedgehog & Fox

P.S. – A new issue of my newsletter comes out next week. Be sure not to miss it – subscribe today!

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