Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three Social Media Dilemmas Unfolding Now

One doesn't have to look far to find a social media blunder, crisis or event, but three interesting situations are occurring this week that are worth monitoring. (And no, I will not reference a congressman acting like a horny 15-year-old boy.)  For your consideration:

  • One if by Land, Two if by Campaign Bus:  You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Sarah Palin inadvertently waded into a controversy this past week. While visiting Boston she was asked about Paul Revere, and her answer struck many as uninformed. She referenced Revere riding to warn the British and ringing bells, and while some dug deep into Revere history to defend Palin's account, others are not as convinced.

    Right or wrong, what is most interesting about this story from the social media perspective is how it's played out on Wikipedia. Visits to the Revere page on the crowdsourced encyclopedia increased 2,600%, but not everyone was there to figure out if Palin was correct or not. Some flocked to edit Wikipedia's version of history fit Palin's account; others stood against those edits;  and a third contingent actually tried to revise the Revere entry to match Palin's version not to support the potential presidential candidate but to mock her.

    In the end, all of this energy may have upended the Wikipedia entry for a few days, but the Revere page will end up being more accurate and better referenced as a result of this debate. The fact that some people attempted to edit Wikipedia to rewrite history but ended up encouraging a more thorough and accurate rendering is a phenomenon known as "The Streisand Effect."  In 2003 Barbra Streisand attempted to suppress photographs of her residence, and in doing so unwittingly created a wave of publicity that eclipsed the tiny privacy threat she was attempting to squelch.

    The Palin and Streisand situations are good reminders to social media professionals that every action can have a wildly disproportionate reaction in social media.

  • Ken dumps Barbie and Mattel: The second evolving social media situation involves Mattel, Greenpeace, deforestation, Barbie and Ken. Greenpeace has accused Mattel of using packaging derived from Indonesian rain forests, and to make the point they followed a template the environmental organization has used before. As it did in its earlier battle with Nestle, Greenpeace leveraged YouTube; this time the clip was of Mattel's Ken learning a dark secret about his beloved Barbie .

    Mattel addressed the accusations directly. Yesterday the company posted to its Facebook page:

    "Playing responsibly is important to Mattel. Over the past months, we’ve been talking to Greenpeace regarding paper-sourcing. As you may have heard, they’ve taken an inflammatory approach despite the open channels of communication we’ve established. You can learn more about our corporate responsibility efforts & packaging improvements here:"

    And today they added:

    "Today Mattel launched an investigation into deforestation allegations. While Mattel does not contract directly with Sinar Mas/APP, we have directed our packaging suppliers to stop sourcing pulp from them as we investigate the allegations. You can learn more here:"

    Greenpeace has vowed to continue the campaign "until Mattel shows 'due diligence,'" but will consumers support Greenpeace by keeping the heat on Mattel, or will they give credit to the company for working to resolve the problem? Yesterday's post from Mattel received a mixed bag of comments with some criticizing Greenpeace's approach and many demanding immediate changes from Mattel, but today's post (made an hour ago as I write this) has thus far received 26 "likes" and just two comments, including, "Nice! I hope Ken takes Barbie back now."

    One thing is clear: Mattel learned from the campaign Greenpeace waged against Nestle. Faced with a smoldering PR problem, the candy company inadvertently threw gas on the fire by threatening to delete posts from people who had profile pics containing altered Nestle logos. Mattel is taking a different tact--although some of its critics have adopted avatars of Barbie and Ken, Mattel is wisely choosing to focus on the bigger issues.

  • Delta soldiers on: Yesterday, some soldiers posted a video on YouTube complaining that Delta had charged them almost $3,000 of baggage fees for their trip home from Afghanistan. The original video has since been removed, but not before major media outlets such as CBS News picked up on the story.

    Delta tried to get in front of the issue with a rapid blog post explaining the company's baggage policies. That post was timely, empathetic and respectful of those who serve our country, but it was not enough to prevent a string of passionate and angry comments from people who felt Delta could do more to support service members.

    The airline reacted quickly; within hours an update was made to the original post. Even though Delta's baggage policies for service members was identical to other airlines, Delta announced an immediate change to permit US military personnel to carry on an additional bag without charge. Alas, even the rapid response from Delta was not enough to change the tone of the comments, which continue to express anger over both the original policy and the accommodation.

    In this case, it seems Delta's social media response was textbook--quick, caring, and responsive--but still most of the comments on its blog and Facebook are quite negative. Delta may simply be paying the price for having a middling customer experience rating within an industry known for mediocre experiences, according to the Temkin Group.

    What do you think?  Other than avoiding the original incident, how might Delta have managed the situation differently to arrive at a more favorable outcome for the brand and its customers?


Anonymous said...

Re: Delta's response

I think I would have re-framed the updated blog post to reflect that the feedback shared was heard. Something to the effect of "Your feedback was very candid and as we reach each comment, we felt the passion behind each output. The fact that you took the time to respond to us has led us to make a change regarding our policy. While it was tough for us to read we knew that the right thing to do was revise it. Our original policy was based on x,y,z however given recent changes within our industry..."

When an audience is passionate about a subject the brand needs to acknowledge it. Of course hindsight is always a virtue and when brands are in the thick of a crisis it's sometimes difficult to be objective. It's a learning phase for all brands in being this transparent with consumers and it carries inherent risks. Sometimes you can't win for trying but I was so glad to see an immediate response from Delta.

Anonymous said...

Should be read not reach :)

Augie Ray said...

Thanks for the insist, Bianca. Great thoughts! A little more acknowledgment to the angry crowd was perhaps necessary,