In a Crisis, Don't Get Too Distracted by Twitterati

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

By now you've heard all about #amazonfail. Amazon, after erroneously flagging gay-themed books as adult material, didn't respond fast enough to the social-media set. Its brand has been ruined for all eternity.

Or, maybe you didn't hear about Amazon's "Twitter firestorm" as it was drowned out by the Domino's fiasco.

After videos of two North Carolina employees doing disgusting things with the chain's food surfaced, the company monitored the web, made the social-media rounds, reached out to blogs and tried to get a handle on the crisis. It did everything Amazon didn't do -- it even posted an apology on YouTube -- yet it ended the week with a real-world branding problem on its hands.

Didn't Domino's do everything right? Not according to self-appointed social-media experts and other Monday-morning quarterbacks. Take too long -- say, more than 24 hours -- to respond and they'll proclaim a crisis, conjure up a hashtag, make demands and then crow about their prognostications once the "crisis" disappears. Their rallying cry is "Motrin Moms," though it ignores the inconvenient truth that the overwhelming majority of adults don't know what that phrase means and that Motrin sales weren't hurt.

If Domino's sees its brand get hurt, it will have less to do with social media than with a compellingly disgusting video jumping to the nightly news -- and the health-related fears caused by an employee putting sandwich cheese up his nose. It turns out that reaching out via Twitter, YouTube and blogs will not stop TV producers from running such a story in prime time.

The lesson here for marketers is not to ignore the social-media mobs gathering around your brand. They can serve as an early-warning device. But don't get lost trying to satisfy their specific demands. That's impossible. The irony for Twitterati is that it is the very incredulousness (#amazonfail) and self-importance (Motrin) of their wailing that often makes it impossible to effectively respond to them.

Instead, be sure to have an effective crisis plan in place and stick to it. Part of that plan should include figuring out what to say, when to say it and to whom to say it.

Of course, the best place to start is to avoid crisis in the first place. And, failing that, quickly do the right thing and then communicate that you've done it. Then pray.

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