Much Ado About…

Kerfuffle: A social imbroglio or brouhaha. An organizational misunderstanding leading to accusations and defensiveness (source: Urban Dictionary).

Nowadays the media seems to be constantly aflutter (or is it atwitter?) with news of companies struggling to come to terms with rogue employees, disgruntled customers or just dealing very poorly with public-facing “social” situations. These social “situations” seem to amplify or reverberate to a fever pitch within the increasingly digital, connected and social world that is ruled by today’s empowered consumer.

Cranky Flier, Huffington Post, Consumerist or even Perez Hilton lead this revolution from the inside out, but ultimately the slingshot or torch is carried by an often outraged, angry mob of normal, average people like you or me.

So should you give a damn about these temper tantrums by spoiled and self-entitled denizens who, having discovered their own voices, have fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with them? Or perhaps the real question is not so much whether to ignore these voices, just let them be.

To be sure, there’s no one-size answer that fits them all. It’s as much art as it is science — a judgment call that is akin to walking a tightrope. Overcompensate, procrastinate or hesitate and perhaps all is lost. Wait too long and it might be too late. Move too quickly and risk throwing gasoline on the already burning fire.

In the case of United Breaks Guitars, the airline hoped that Dave would lose interest and go away. Six months and 9,000,000 YouTube views later, apparently that was a poor decision and the rabid hyenas of the mainstream, fringe and social media are still licking their lips.

It was recently brought to my attention that United Airlines recorded record quarterly results — “$430 Million 2Q Net Profit Excluding Charges, Largest Since 1999” (per its press release).  So is this proof positive that the whole United Breaks Guitars kerfuffle was really nothing more than an irritating gnat annoying a 900,000-pound gorilla?

Not at all. It’s probably the result of even more cost-cutting to eliminate even more service and support from their overall commitment to customer service and experience.

Attributing success or failure to single social media-fueled incident is really not the point. The point is that it is a sign of things to come. In the “Motrin Moms” incident, the concentrated backlash did not appear to have affected sales, but the campaign was still pulled and with it, months of research, production costs and time spent. In this case, perhaps Johnson & Johnson should have resisted a knee-jerk crisis management reaction, and instead addressed mommy bloggers and stayed the course. Or perhaps by taking decisive action, it prevented a future MotrinGate from occurring.

The social media graveyards are littered with the tombs of kerfuffles past. Take the recent pink icing with sprinkles surprise offered up by Dunkin’ Donuts and its Facebook wall of porn. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Perhaps it’s because you’re in the majority. (In August, Dunkin’ Donuts took nine daylight hours during midweek to notice that its Facebook wall had been taken over by sordid porn-related spam.) Or perhaps it’s just that you don’t read the navel-gazing blogs pertaining to self-proclaimed social media experts.

But what if you’re wrong to ignore them? Take, for example, the fact that nearly 2 million people “like” D-squared. What percentage of them do you think were exposed (pun not intended) to pearls of copy like “My girlfriend slept with my bestfrend (sic). So now Im spreading the video of me her cousin and her friend.” Makes you lust for a jelly doughnut, doesn’t it? Truth be told, I’m not sure too much damage was done, although can we really be sure?

In many cases, the jury is out. But the verdict is in on Domino’s Pizza and its kerfuffle brought about by two renegade employees: up to three stores lost half their business within three weeks of the dirty videos being released on YouTube and had to close. And the hangover lingers. Just do a search on Google for the phrase “Domino’s employees.”

Seems like when it comes to kerfuffles, the prosecution (bloggers) rests when the judge (Google), jury (mainstream media) and executioner (customers’ purse strings) are playing this rather expensive game of search. Oftentimes, when these blemishes become synonymously associated with your keywords, it takes incredible (and often futile) efforts to expunge them form your “permanent record.” 

Can you take the chance of this blowing over as quickly as it began, without so much as a peep, scratch or leftover blemish? How can you be so sure? Can you really predict what will go unnoticed versus go viral? At the least, we should acknowledge the incredible insights, feedback, opportunity to take a Mulligan and/or ultimately avoid making the same mistake twice.

At the end of the day this comes down to the devil you know versus the one you don’t. With the former, you’re taking preemptive steps to minimize or mitigate potential damage — nipping a problem in the bud before it becomes unmanageable. With the latter, you’re taking a calculated risk of either sweeping something under the rug and hoping no one notices, or betting that it does not fester and/or escalate.

It’s more prudent to avoid all tempests, whether they reside in teacups or ultimately become the perfect storm that ends up taking you down.

We get lost in the potential amplification of social media, when in reality all we should be focusing on is the potential of one, singular customer at a time.

As my colleague Greg Verdino used to say in the early days of Twitter: “The good news is that your customers aren’t on Twitter; the bad news is that the press are.”

Today, the ugly truth is that your customers are on Twitter, and kerfuffles become public spectacles on a daily basis — oftentimes at your expense.

Perhaps it’s time to amend the definition of kerfuffle as a forewarning; a sign of things to come; a call to action and an opportunity to act now, quickly and decisively.

And that’s much ado about something.

Joseph Jaffe is chief interruptor at Powered Inc. He is also the author of Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones. Contact him at jaffe@powered.com or @jaffejuice on Twitter.