Social media has given companies unprecedented access to their target audience. Not only are they able to provide a way for customers to see what is going on with their business but they can catch negative or positive feedback through live monitoring of sites like Twitter.
This also presents an issue - stories that they were once able to quietly take care of (or ignore) can now take on a life of their own. Through the Internet, an incident either large or small can escalate until it threatens the reputation of a company that is left scrambling to fix things.
Below are four examples of how different major franchises tried to put out the flames that were sparked through social media during times of crisis.
Back in 2010, a video was launched by nonprofit Greenpeace about Nestle's sourcing of a company known as Sinar Mas. For those that don't know, Sinar Mas is the largest palm oil producer in Indonesia. It has been alleged to be responsible for mass deforestation that resulted in both the endangerment of natural species and the destruction of a number of communities.
The video targeted Nestle for its financial support of this company, which is also known to use cheap labor to create its product. Not taking into account the open and viral nature of social media, it did not launch an effort to deal with the problem in a constructive way. Nestle didn't speak to their customers or Greenpeace or even pretend to consider the issue. Instead, it contacted Google and asked the Internet giant to remove the video from search results and the original YouTube clip.
Much to the public's outrage, the web giant did - but not before the video was backed up on Vimeo, other YouTube accounts and personal websites. This led to a massive uproar over Nestle's apparent attempt to cover up the knowledge and censor Greenpeace. As thousands of people took to Facebook and Twitter to make it clear they were boycotting the company, a statement was released that said Nestle promised to move all purchases of palm oil to "certified" providers in the future. But it did not directly address the issue nor remove the stain on the company for the way it handled the crisis.
2. Center for Disease Control (CDC)
When the swine flu epidemic began back in 2009, everyone was a little on edge. The media fanned the flames of panic by providing constant worst-case scenarios, and hospitals began to fill up with people. A few had genuine cases, but most had a cold. Almost everyone knew someone who had swine flu and a very small portion of them died while others suffered the symptoms for a week or two and bounced back.
The World Health Organization is widely considered to have dropped the ball, but the CDC provided a surprisingly effective social media campaign that is held up as an example of proper coordination in a time when crisis was not isolated to a company but to a global concern.
The CDC used social networking sites, mobile apps, games, ecards, email lists and more to get the message out. It was even a calming message about how to prevent swine flu, how to know when you have it and when to be concerned - not to mention how to treat symptoms when they do arise. The way the CDC provided so many tools to allow the community at large to work for it in a time when social media could have so easily made things worse is inspiring.
3. Papa John's Pizza
In January, a New York woman named Minhee Cho posted a picture of a receipt from Papa John's Pizza from an order she had placed that evening. Under "name," where the cashier is meant to post the name of the person ordering, was "Lady Chinky Eyes."
Angrily showing it on Twitter, she wrote "Hey @PapaJohns just FYI my name isn't 'lady chinky eyes.'" While originally just meant as a post to her friends and perhaps to show the business what went on in its stores, it sparked a massive media fury that was furthered through social media sites where it was reposted, saved as a screencap and shown on Facebook and Google+ as well as picked up by local, national and online news sources all over the country.
Papa John's was quick to offer a public apology and contacted Cho personally to apologize. It also fired the 16-year-old girl who had made the comments and made it clear that it in no way tolerates the use of racist terms from employees. What made this such a surprising story, however, was how much was heard from the employees of the store in question, who took to social media to comment on the event and how they disapproved of the teenager being fired. Whatever your opinion on the story, it was handled almost entirely through social networking channels, making it a unique example of the response from a major chain.
4. Domino's Pizza
Another case of a pizza brand being burned by social media, Domino's Pizza learned the hard way that news travels fast online. In 2009, two employees at a store in North Carolina filmed one of them putting ingredients up their nose and then putting them on sandwiches as well as mentioning other times they had sneezed on food. They then posted the video on YouTube.
Within hours it had more than a million hits, and it was being sent all over the web. Even though Domino's managed to hear about it the same day it was posted, it was too late to keep it from spreading since the video had long since gone viral. The two employees were fired immediately, and the brand began working hard to counter the damage by using an aggressive new social media campaign. It was the push Domino's needed to begin using the web to its advantage, and it has since created a massive online presence that surpasses almost any other food service business.
Some companies flourish in a time of social media crisis, and some crash and burn. But each of these examples can teach us something about the nature of an online social networking presence and the importance of properly handling problems when they arise.