Revolutionary Measures

Telling a Whopper on social media

Burger King

Rather than covering a range of subjects I could probably write a weekly blog called ‘Which brand has f@cked up on social media’, without running short of material. This week it was Burger King’s turn on Twitter – though to be fair to the fast food giant they believe their account was hacked. After all the background picture was changed to a McDonald’s logo and one tweet claimed the chain had been sold to the Golden Arches.

The tweets stopped after an hour after Burger King asked Twitter to suspend its account (unlike HMV, they knew how to switch social networking off). They even had a supportive tweet from @mcdonalds commiserating with their rivals.

So no real reputational damage done – the online equivalent of breaking into a local Burger King, daubing graffiti on the walls and putting quick drying cement down the toilets. Illegal yes, but once the mess is cleared up, Burger King on Twitter will be back open for business.

But the financial damage could have actually been enormous. Imagine that rather than tweeting an obviously untrue rumour (We just got sold to McDonalds!) the hackers had put out something different and subtler – such as news of finding horsemeat in the company’s burgers (not true I hasten to add). Think of what that would do to the stock price, spooking investors and sparking a sell-off. Financial institutions would have seen company news from a reputable source and acted accordingly. Given Burger King is US-listed I’m sure litigation wouldn’t have been far behind from disgruntled shareholders too. And the problem isn’t just malicious hacking – do companies have corporate policies about what they can and can’t tweet/blog/put on Facebook in case it is share price sensitive? My betting is that many don’t, leaving it to the discretion of whoever is actually running the Twitter feed. Hardly foolproof.

So, at a time when cyber security is top of the agenda, companies need to make sure that they not only know their Twitter logon details, have clear policies in place, protect their passwords and have an instant crisis plan if security is breached. I’d hope that if it wasn’t before Burger King’s investor relations department is now much more involved in social media planning. Handled properly this is another chance for marketing/PR/social media to become more strategically involved in vital financial communication – so marketers should ignore the Burger King experience at their peril.

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February 20, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Starbucking up social media

Starbucks Logo

Even before their tax debacle I’ve never been a fan of Starbucks – bland coffee, relentless happiness and demanding my name before deigning to serve me have all driven me elsewhere.

But I was staggered at their ineptitude when it comes to social media. Despite being ranked as the best loved brand on social media in the US, they’ve not quite grasped that not paying millions in tax isn’t going to endear them to people here. Social media popularity fell dramatically when the true story of its tax affairs came out in October and a blog post from chairman, president and CEO, Howard Schultz, defending the company made little difference (a tip Howard – if you want British people to believe you are ‘honoured to serve them’, use the British spelling of the word.)

So what do you do if you’re at the centre of such a firestorm of criticism, particularly via social media? I’d recommend changing behaviour and reaching out to engage with people. Yet, instead the coffee giant decided to run a scheduled Twitter hashtag campaign #spreadthecheer. However, like McDonalds and Waitrose in the past, it failed to see how easily this could be hijacked and as I write #spreadthecheerPRFail is trending on Twitter. The more pleasant tweets push the merits of independent coffee shops, while the most aggressive demand that they ‘Pay your f*cking taxes’. And to make matters even worse the company installed an unmoderated Twitter wall at the Natural History Museum’s ice rink, leading to the automatic projection of abusive messages, allegedly through a malfunction of the profanity filter.

Starbucks has got its marketing, social media and ethical stance very, very wrong. And while it is facing a social media firestorm it has not helped its cause – in fact through #spreadthecheer and Howard Schultz’s blog it has soaked itself in petrol and handed matches to the mob.

But Starbucks isn’t the only brand to completely underestimate that if pushed far enough people will complain – and with social media complaints can reach critical mass very quickly and turn into a comprehensive campaign against an organisation.

This means it is time for brands (particularly ones that claim to be ethical and friendly) to re-adjust their marketing. The time of one way marketing to passive users is over. As my erstwhile colleagues Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington pointed out in their book Brand Anarchy, “Reputation is not just under siege, the ramparts have been utterly breached.” A chilling threat to some companies but also a wake up call to marketers and brands – now you need to listen, learn and engage with customers, not refuse to serve them if they won’t give you their name.

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December 19, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments