ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: The Dark Side of Social Media

Financial analysts have attributed falling share prices to particular campaigns, noting that some domains claim a regular audience of 20,000 to 50,000 visitors and that information on those sites has been accepted and echoed by the mainstream media.- Bruce Arnold, Caslon Analytics

Web marketing experts say that any reputation monitoring strategy for the food service industry must encompass social media in all its forms, including video sites like YouTube, networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, and micro-blogging services like Twitter.

While many food service businesses are enraptured with the promotional power of social media, they also need to grasp its perilous darker side: its ability to damage or destroy a business with a few choice mouse clicks.

Domino’s Pizza learned this lesson the hard way in April when a video depicting its employees smearing mucus on sandwiches was posted-and went viral-on YouTube .

The video, a joke staged by two of the pizza maker’s employees with nothing better to do, was tossed up on the online video sharing service as a lark.

For Domino’s, it was anything but.

Within days, the damaging video had been viewed more than a million times, had became topic du jour on the micro-blogging service Twitter , and had shown up numerous times in the top 10 Google search returns for keyword “Domino’s.”

“It sickens me that the actions of two individuals could impact our great system,” says Patrick Doyle, Domino’s president, who made his apology about the incident in a video that Domino’s posted on YouTube.

Bruce Arnold, founder of Caslon Analytics , a Web marketing firm that counsels clients on managing business reputations online, says that no company is safe from social media’s dark side.

“Some [posts] are little more than a repository for juvenile humor: graffiti, comments that ‘X’ is the devil, animations of creatures urinating on the corporate logo,” Arnold says. “Others feature detailed and sometimes persuasive critiques, including ‘insider’ documentation, and are associated with newsgroups.

“Financial analysts have attributed falling share prices to particular campaigns, noting that some domains claim a regular audience of 20,000 to 50,000 visitors and that information on those sites has been accepted and echoed by the mainstream media.”

Embrace Reputation Management

For food manufacturing and food service businesses, the takeaway from Domino’s rude awakening is to develop a reputation management strategy proactively and be ready to pounce when a silly joke-or worse-threatens to go viral.

Indeed, according to an April 2009 study from the Aberdeen Group, companies that embrace reputation management not only guard their brand against ne’er-do-wells but are also much more likely to increase shareholder value as compared to companies that simply ignore the social media space.

Specifically, the report, “Brand Reputation Management: Using Online Monitoring to Protect the Company’s Crown Jewels,” found that companies with top-notch reputation management are 12 times more likely to increase shareholder value year over year as compared to their counterparts.

“The benefits of online monitoring and analysis in the context of brand reputation management are clear and compelling,” says Jeff Zabin, the report’s author and a research fellow in Aberdeen’s customer management practice.

Such monitoring is especially critical to food service businesses, because so many of the industry’s clients are the same type of people most often visiting social forums on the Web: educated, highly articulate Web users who have well-founded opinions and are not afraid to express those views.

Another major industry demographic that is not shy about using the Web includes the young-or nearly young-and wealthy people who are often found posting ideas and poking around on the various and sundry social networks, as well as becoming the earliest adopters of the Next Big Thing in Web communications-whatever that happens to be.

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