Monday, April 20, 2009

If You Don't
Someone Else Will

The examples are everywhere you look. Almost every day an example appears of one of a few things.

1.) A corporation suffers some snafu or gaffe and instead of addressing it head-on or proactively, they either ignore it, attack the critics or ham-handedly attempt to address it. In almost all three instances, they make the matter worse.

2.) A company slow to get involved with online media and social networking finds themselves playing catch up, and while everyone else has gotten sophisticated in how they approach the new online mindset, these companies arrive on the scene like complete n00bs, failing and failing hard.

3.) Letting their customers and users take complete reins of the online process, they fail to foresee that vandals will trash the joint.

In the last two weeks, we've seen and Domino's Pizza hit the number one example. When thousands of gay and lesbian titles disappeared from their rankings, Amazon hunkered down and Twitter was afire with speculation. And when YouTube videos appeared of workers spitting into pizzas (and worse), Domino's tried to play it cool and only reply in a few small ways. Neither reaction went over well and both brands suffered.

Skittles, when they launched their new online portal that allowed people to update their posting Twitter search wall, apparently didn't have anything in place to keep people from bashing the brand, leading to a not altogether too terrible but easily foreseen fail. Rude comments proliferated, but luckily the brand avoided a swarm that could have tanked the experiment.

Number two is where things will really start to get sticky. I won't go so far as to call out brands by name for this particular embarrassment any more than I'd not laugh at someone telling a bad old joke. The public shame is too much. Think of how you cringe now when someone new to the online world forwards you the ancient "Bill Gates and Intel will pay you to forward emails" chain letter.

The longer companies and organizations stay on the sideline, the more uncomfortable their transitions are going to be. Caught behind the times, their learning curve will have to be much steeper than those who jumped in on things while there was still time. New apps, new third party software, the general etiquette of online behavior, how to speak with your customers/audience instead of at them, all of this will not only be a foreign language by the time these late starters get on board, but their late-to-the-party game of catch-up might just be a case of too little, too late.

Worse still, in an organization's absence in the online sphere, others will filled the gap, and not necessarily with the kind of thing HQ would like to see. The ability to influence this online reputation will start from a weak posture and take additional time to counterbalance.

All in all, with a modest investment in time, research, and in delegating responsibility, brands, organizations, companies and others can mark out their territory online, can become participants in the word of mouth world we call social networking. It's a small price to pay for being ready when a storm arrives.

Just ask Dominos.

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