PR and Social Networking, sitting in a tree…

What do Marc Jacobs, BP, Toyota and Domino’s Pizza – among others – have in common? A soap-opera’s share of PR and Crisis Management drama – and none of them are entirely blameless in each of their situations. Tread carefully with whom you dish your twitter passwords out to, or how you treat your employees; that little website called YouTube is just one place they can flex their unhappiness.

Public Relations is the art of making the consumer see your business as you would like them to see it. Now is the time to believe that Social Networking is PR’s BFF. Well, in a perfect world that would be the case, but in reality, it all depends on whom you have typing your 140-character sentiments up; something Marc Jacobs and his organisation learnt about the hard way recently when they let a young intern loose on their twitter account. Obviously not a happy chappy – and certainly not a fan of big MJ or company CEO, Robert Duffy.

“You have no idea how difficult Robert is … Roberts a tyrant … I don’t have the energy for what is expected … Spelling is hard for me…”. The ‘anonymous intern’ was definitely not having a grand ol time trying to leverage the brand via twitter. It’s a pity because there are hundreds of people who would kill for that job – and they gave it to someone they obviously didn’t respect and who has a problem with spelling. That’s PR blunder #1. Sure, you don’t have to lavish expensive gifts on the petulant child who is in charge of steering your social networking page – but then choose the right candidate to begin with. Somebody that actually wants the job might be a good place to start.

Unhappy employees can no longer be overlooked. If this was 1988, you could just ignore the problem or bury them with double the work load and half the pay, but somewhere between big hair, blue eye shadow and the constantly-online world we now live in, a shift happened that evened out the playing field (to say the least). With your organisation’s reputation very much at stake, the power to go online is something that people have to respect and be very, very careful of. “Anyone with a camera and an internet link can cause a lot of damage,” says the reporter in NBC’s news report on the Domino’s employees who took hygiene care to the dark side – and filmed it for sh*ts and giggles.

The power for something to go viral is immeasurable and what may be funny to two idiots on a random day at work may not be funny to an audience, the collective organisation or the brand’s reputation. If everybody stopped buying Domino’s, the company would have to close its doors and you would have thousands of unemployed people who, for the most part, spend everyday doing an honest day’s work to bring home the pizza. How funny would your video be then, Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer?

How companies respond to issues like these is paramount to their survival. Sure, not many of Marc Jacobs’ twitter followers have a personal relationship with him, and – thanks to movies like The Devil Wears Prada or John Galliano’s recent rants – we don’t expect fashion stalwarts to be angelic. Still, there is something to be said for knowing that a revered brand’s CEO has an unnecessary, nasty personality behind closed doors or dangerous, lurking anti-semitic sentiments. Jacobs’ organisation responded to their little twitter-gate with a clean and clear message that all is well and implied they had simply been hacked.

Nothing memorable or particularly impressive, but decent enough. Maybe playing it down is not a bad thing. At least they didn’t pretend it never happened which is more than we can say for those charmers at BP throughout 2010. Their eventual reactions were so bad – “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume,” BP CEO. Err… No reaction would have been better! The whole fiasco proved that, unless you have impermeable business operations that are devoid of any possible error, be sure you have a super-effective crisis management and PR strategy.

Toyota has suffered many blows to their brand and reputation. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for them. When what you are selling is built on safety and reputation, you face a massive problem when you have to admit that those very same elements are in question. It has been a long journey for the motor vehicle giant; one that led to production of this commercial no doubt. Reputation fix? I’m not convinced.

It touches a nerve if you ask me. Too close to what they are still dealing with and, as they say in the business, you can’t rebuild a house in a hurricane. There is no doubt that this is a very pretty commercial, I just think it will be wasted on the audience at this time. They they will scoff at its message and say ‘yeah right’. Moreover, I think it is trying to say a lot without actually committing to anything concrete. So you created this glass body? Show us what happens to it when you drive the car into a wall.

Mending business wounds is a tricky business and one that professionals probably only have to learn about as they walk that unexpected road. One thing the Toyota commercial does highlight for organisations big and small is their need for PR and Crisis Management strategies: We’re all fragile – especially on the inside.

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