Picking Up Fallen Domino’s

As if dealing with a severe economic recession were not enough, corporate executives have a new scenario to keep them awake at night: rogue employees trashing their brand’s reputation through social media.

The victim last week was Domino’s Pizza. Two employees in Conover, N.C., videotaped an unsanitary prank in the restaurant’s kitchen and posted it on YouTube. By afternoon of April 15, the video had more than 1 million views. References to it topped a Google search for “Domino’s,” and Twitter was buzzing with related links and chatter. The brand’s quality reputation metrics took a nosedive. An article in USA Today aptly noted, “The video reflects some of the worst fears consumers have about food purchased from restaurants.”

It’s a PR nightmare at the warp speed of social media and it was inevitable. Reputations are made or massacred online. In fact, this is a reputation management issue we all face. I opened up the question online (via Facebook and Twitter) and invited colleagues and competitors to share their views via Peter Shankman’s HARO (Help a Reporter Out) network. The thinking is compiled here into buckets, and the sheer volume and quality of responses shows what a hot topic this is.

Megan Casserly of Weber Shandwick commented (via e-mail) that according to her agency’s recent study “Risky Business: Reputations Online” (in cooperation with the Economist Intelligent Unit), 67 percent of leading global executives believe their companies’ reputations are threatened in today’s economy. These executives cite employee sabotage and misdirected e-mails as among their greatest concerns.

All in all, opinions about the best courses of action (whether from a PR point of view or a consumer point of view) fit into six groups, all vital checkpoints for defending and enhancing reputation.

Be There Fast. Awareness and Presence: It’s vital for brands and corporations to be present where conversations are taking place (e.g., social media), so they can track, troubleshoot and respond quickly.

* A majority of leaders are out of touch with rogue employees online. Two-thirds (66 percent) of global executives are either unaware or do not want to admit that employees are badmouthing their companies online. Surprisingly, only one-third (34 percent) of executives worldwide say they know of an employee who posted something negative online about their company despite the ongoing prevalence of damaging digital chatter. –“Risky Business: Reputations Online,” Weber Shandwick, submitted by Megan Casserly, via e-mail.

* One thing Domino’s should have already done, before this happened, was establish a presence in social media. I noted in The New York Times story about the crisis, Domino’s had to quickly create a Twitter account to respond — in the meantime, precious hours and days were passing by. Its strategy of doing as little as possible in hopes the crisis would simply disappear didn’t take into account the incredible viral nature of issues like this on the Web. People were Tweeting their complaints and concerns and there was no response. Nothing gets people riled more than to believe they are being ignored. That just made matters exponentially worse. –Dan Collins, APR, ABC, PR professional, via e-mail.

How did Domino’s handle the situation? From where I sit, badly. [Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre said executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. While the company had been made aware of the video by Monday evening via a blogger, it took them until Wednesday to get a Twitter account as well as a YouTube video of the CEO to respond to consumer concerns. –Ken Makovsky, My Three Cents blog.

Domino’s was on the ball with its fast response to the crisis. The brand needs to stay completely connected with its most loyal consumers through this with consistent follow-through. –Daryl McCullough, CEO, PainePR, via e-mail.