Australia Event: Social Networks and P.R.

I thought I’d post up the 10 minute spiel I gave the RMIT Communicator of the Year audience this morning. I took the “social network worst case scenario” storyline. Lots of fun, usually I focus on social media for Good Not Evil. A nice change. This is it, in essence: ******************************************************************** | View | Upload…

I thought I’d post up the 10 minute spiel I gave the RMIT Communicator of the Year audience this morning. I took the “social network worst case scenario” storyline. Lots of fun, usually I focus on social media for Good Not Evil. A nice change. This is it, in essence:


Public relations (PR) is the managing of internal and external communication of an organization to create and maintain a positive image. Public relations may involve popularizing successes, downplaying failures, announcing changes, and many other activities; but ethical P.R. practitioners can also convince companies to work more closely with its various publics and form win-win relationships.

So says that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia. So it must be right!

A lot of fear around social media is a storm in a teacup. In a world where the worst P.R. Disaster would be your company causing an environmental catastrophe such as Exxon oil spill, and your greatest personal nightmare is watching on TV as that idiot Director or M.P. that you represent sprinting down the street with Today Tonight, A Current Affair and 60 Minutes film crew in hot pursuit, a whine here on a blog or a whinge there on a forum is simply part of the changing landscape of public communications.

And anyway, the news is good! Bazaarvoice released a report on Monday that showed that assessed 34,000 customer reviews, over ten retail categories and found that 4/5ths of product reviews left on brand websites were positive. They found that:

  • Ratings and reviews drive conversion
  • reduce returns
  • and encourage customer loyalty and trust

But you know, the positives of social media are never as much fun as the doom and gloom negatives. And at the end of the day, that’s where we come into our own as P.R. junkies. We shine in crisis management mode. I mean, aren’t you ever tempted to stir the pot just a little bit, make a few waves…? no? Ok. :p

Here’s a complaint:
In January, in Chicago, Karen and her kids went through an American drive thru service at the tantalising named Steak -and-Shake. They wanted milkshakes. As Karen is profoundly deaf, she drove pass the speakerphone and went directly to the collection window to place her order, presumably where she could read lips.

Unfortunately, the young pimply faced fast food order taker told her off and refused to allow her to use the collection window to place an order. This directly contravenes The Americans with Disabilities Act.

I think you can guess what happened next. But before we go on to that, I would like to make one very important point and that is that at least one of the rules of media engagement has been irrevocably broken. And it has to do with naming and shaming, publicly humiliating entry level staff for silly mistakes. Traditional media rarely names the perpetrator of poor customer service yet I’ve seen social networks not only give the full name and address of junior staff but also the home telephone number of his boss and his bosses boss. Social media complaints can infiltrate the very fabric of your organisation. Everyone IS connected to everyone else. If you are responsible for internal communications please please start to look at social media policies and training and protection for your staff at all levels.

So anyway Diversity (slide) picked up on the story. They are a very powerful group looking at disabilities and discrimination. So did The Consumerist which is an anti-marketing site. By anti-Marketing I mean they track negative publicity around Brands – their tagline is: Shoppers Bite Back!

Incidentally there are anti-Public Relations communities that track negative publicity. These sites are an interesting study in themselves. Some of the big business sites talked about Karen’s case and of course it made the local newspapers (slide) and evening News program on Fox (slide).
Slide 10
So one woman crated content, put it up for immediate release and a number of varied and influential bloggers – shall we call them media distribution outlets? media channels? – picked up on the story.

And yes this stuff does impact the bottom line – the news could not of hit Google Finance (slide) at a worse time for Steak-and-Shake who were looking to sell.

Slide 12
On May 17th last year, Apple stock started off strong. Then at 11:49am a blogger posted up some incorrect information. Apple’s stock promptly tanked from $107.89 down to $103.42 in six minutes. This wiped just over $4billion off Apple’s market capitilization in six minutes.

The next time a C-level executive in your organisation says “oh we don’t need to get involved with all that social stuff”. show them this graph and watch their face change.

By the way that’s not the worst thing athat can happen with social networks. I’m still getting to that.

Rather than a single content creator such as a blogger who happens to be a deaf mom or an Apple gadget blogger, imagine your consumers banding together into an army, organising themselves to go to war against your brand. Think or …

When Coke created a guerilla marketing campaign around the Zero Coke it triggered an equal and opposite campaign called The Zero Movement. Consumers graffited real life billboards as well as creating a social network online.

The social network online publicised:

  • Environmental impact of plastic coke bottles
  • Climate impact of gas emissions of Coke trucks
  • Health impact of artificial sweeteners
  • Map mashups of crime statistics around Coke vending machines.

Imagine an anti-consumer community in your sector and what they could do!

So while you are focussed on trying to find out fi there is a negative review here or there, don’t look behind you. There is a Tsuanami wave of anti-publicity about to break over your sector.

By the way, having your customer create anti-PR communities against you is still not the worst thing that can happen.

The very worst case scenario is your STAFF creating an anti-brand community.

IBM owns about 50 virtual facilities in Second Life. About 4/12 thousand employees work or operate in a number of virtual worlds including Second Life. Around 500 employees from 18 countries signed up to protest the treatment of IBM employees in Italy generating a lot of media impressions.
Yep, having your staff create massive online social networks to complain you don’t listen to them, might just be the worst case scenario.

Or not.

Either way, in the next 12-18months, those of us in public relations are going to be earning our

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  1. Wow – what an amazing presentation!!

    This really highlights the impact of negative customer/employee experiences and the direct result through online media.

    Do you have any other speaking events coming up?

  2. Laurel

    Thanks to your April 21 blog post I was able to attend the live version of this presentation this morning. Its always a pleasure and inspiring to hear you speak, even if it is only for 10 mins! Thanks for visiting us down here in Melbourne, hope they treated you nicely! Do keep us updated with your speaking engagements.
    – Kerri

  3. Thanks for highlighting the Steak ‘n Shake situation. I’ve chosen to try and work with the executives at Steak ‘n Shake to come to a favorable outcome– namely making all of their drive-thrus accessible and ongoing training for every restaurant.
    However, it remains to be seen if Steak ‘n Shake wants to go in this direction–I’m waiting for their decision on the direction they plan to go in.

  4. And… it just wasn’t some young guy at the window–the man is actually a trainer who is responsible for teaching the order takers how to provide customer service.

  5. Hi Karen, thanks for visiting and letting me know. BTW, any reason why you didn’t name-and-shame the guy publicly?

  6. Laurel, that’s a good question, why didn’t I name the guy publicly?

    First of all, I am aiming for a positive solution to this problem. The trainer is still working for Steak ‘n Shake. I very much want to see a solution changed for the future, as I have three deaf and hard of hearing kids who will be using drive-thrus someday.

    This situation isn’t over with yet. I have a meeting with Steak ‘n Shake coming up in July. I will be meeting with the guy who refused the order. I’m betting that this incident will forever change the way he serves customers–hopefully he’s learned a valuable lesson.

    The nice thing about a blog is that consumers can make an impact. I’m hoping to make a positive one out of this.

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