After seeing a tweet from Barbara Nixon with a link to a truly disgusting video, I responded with a retweet of the link and a declaration that, after seeing the video, I'll never eat at Domino's Pizza again. My tweet was then retweeted by a variety of people who added prefaces like "Over to you Domino's" and "Domino's are you paying attention."
I waited to see if I'd hear from Domino's and searched to see if the pizza heavyweight had replied to Barbara's or anybody else's tweets. Only later did I learnâ€"in a phone conversation with a colleagueâ€"that Domino's had, in fact, responded. Not on Twitter, where people are talking about it, but on the Consumerist blog, which had also been covering the story.
This raises a question corporate communicators should ponder: What is an adequate response to a social-media generated attack on your reputation?
A follow-up to the original Consumerist post included an email from Tim McIntyre, VP of COmmunications at Domino's, to a Consumerist reader who had alerted McIntyre to the situation. McIntyre included an email he had received from one of the employees involved apologizing and insisting the video was a prank. McIntyre, however, didn't know whether to believe the employee, and followed up with this:
Our chief of security has spoken to the franchise owner this morning, who was dumbfounded, to say the least. He has told us that he will be terminating their employment today. The "challenge" that comes with the freedom of the internet is that any idiot with a camera and an internet link can do stuff like this - and ruin the reputation of a brand that's nearly 50 years old, and the reputations of 125,000 hard-working men and women across the nation and in 60 countries around the world.
That's not a bad response, but remember, it was an email to one individual. So far, as near as I can tell, the publication of this email on Consumerist is the only public acknowledgement of a situation that continues to spiral out of control. I checked Twazzup, the nifty new third-party Twitter search tool, and found a fast-updating stream of tweets pointing to the video (on YouTube, not the Consumerist article), along with links to blogs and other sources referenced in the tweeets.
Domino's needs to get out in front of this situation.
It would be a mistake to hope this would simply blow over. Already, volunteer sleuths have tracked down the store, an increasingly common activity, as The New York Times reported last week. Left unaddressed, other likely results are former employees starting to discuss what they saw, boycott groups forming on Facebook, and ultimately external media coverage (which, according to Google News, hasn't happened yet). Already, there's the likelihood that popular blog posts like those on Consumerist, once they have attracted enough inbound links, will be part of the top Google search results for Domino's for years to come.
There's clearly a lesson to be learned from Scott Monty's handling of the Ford Ranger Station story, in which he replied directly to many of the tweets alerting him to the situation. He also sent several updates via Twitter, asking his followers to retweet the message, ensuring his updates were seen by an expanded audience. The result of this effort was the (accurate) perception that Ford was on top of the situation and taking appropriate steps to resolve it. That situation was resolved in less than a day and never attracted mainstream media coverage.
Twitter isn't necessarily the only channel for engagement. Domino's should post a comment to the YouTube video itself, which features over 350 comments as of this writing, along with any other venues where the perception persists that the company isn't doing anything about this. (By the way, when I first saw the video on YouTube about an hour ago, there were about 200 comments. It had been viewed some 8,000 times; right now it's up to 14,013 views. That's the very definition of "spiraling out of control." I expect the count to skyrocket over the course of the day.)
There's also a lesson to be learned from McNeil Consumer Healthcare's handling of the MotrinMoms kerfuffle, with Marketing VP Kathy Widmer apologizing publicly on the Motrin website.
In general, Domino's should be viewing the situation as a crisis, an unanticipated event that could result in damage to the company's reputation. With so many people alreading vowing never to eat Domino's again, there can be little doubt that the this story qualifies under that definition. That means Domino's needs to address a risk-averse public by owning up to the situation and outlining steps the company is taking to ensure this would never happen again. (It's far too expensive a solution to expect, but wouldn't it be cool if Domino's installed webcams in every kitchen so customers could watch their food being prepared at their local restaurant?)
And Domino's needs to make sure this message gets out through all the major channels where the story is under discussion. An official statement on its corporate site wouldn't hurt, especially if the story does migrate into the traditional media.
Finally, the Domino's story serves as another reminder of the importance of monitoring how you're being discussed. Such a monitoring effort would surely turn up the Twitter stream, blog posts (more and more are turning up all the time), Digg, and the broad range of other channels. Knowing where the topic is spreading should inform your communication strategy.