Terrorized into Excellence

IStock_000000742258XSmallAnecdotally, I can tell you that the Dominos Pizza debacle — in which some scabrous pizzamakers in a North Carolina outlet chronicled their disgusting abuses for YouTube — will affect the chain’s business.

How do I know? Because my “mainstream” bride found out about this episode on her own, and when the kids clamored for Dominos, she cursed in Welsh.

When my bride cusses in an ancient Celtic tongue, you don’t cross her again.

Dominos is trying to get ahead of the situation.  They joined Twitter.  The CEO posted an apology to YouTube (with the SEO-savvy title, “Disgusting Dominos People” — wonder if that was the top-trending Google search at the time?)  … Such Social Media moves might satisfy the digerati but will they satisfy regular folks like Mrs. Defren?  Not as likely.

I like Shel Holtz’s idea: “wouldn’t it be cool if Domino’s installed webcams in every kitchen so customers could watch their food being prepared at their local restaurant?”

With cheap webcams, I don’t see this as being financially impossible.

A national media campaign could tout this Herculean effort at transparency.  Folks like my wife would be empowered to police the local pizza joint for any violations — and could report directly to Picture1Dominos Corporate if some “gross” negligence ever occured. And thus my kids could swamp their mom’s protests: “If you’re so worried, let’s watch them make it for us! It’ll be fun!”

That would be an effective campaign for Dominos.  But what does it say about the state of Corporate Culture that some of the most prominent brands to join the Social Media sphere have been “forced” to do so by horrific events?

ComcastCares” is great, but didn’t that effort start soon after the “Comcast Guy Fell Asleep on My Couch” incident?

Everyone loves “RichardatDELL” (and friends), but didn’t my friend Richard get hired after the Dell Hell incident?

That’s not to say that other Big Brands participating in Social Media do so because they’ve screwed up: but I can tell you that many of the brand managers we talk to at SHIFT are “terrified” about the many ways Social Media can go sideways, when we discuss how-to best move forward.

“What if something goes wrong?” they ask.  “It will,” we say.

As they blanche, we continue: “But by getting involved early — by making some smart moves before something goes wrong — you’ll build more effective listening posts, and, you’ll buy your brand some credibility and time to respond appropriately. In fact you’ll have a better feel for ‘what is appropriate,’ by that point.  And best of all, you’ll have a new base of steady friends who will have your back.”

What do you think?  Does the fact that a brand joins the Social Media scene only after a crisis cheapen their conversation?  Or do you give them the benefit of the doubt?

Will you feel the same way a year or two from now, by which point it will have been even more obvious that these brands ought to have “joined the conversation” a while ago?

Posted on: April 21, 2009 at 9:49 am By Todd Defren
29 Responses to “Terrorized into Excellence”


  • I believe that brands must engage with a consistent and measurable strategy in all suitable social networks. These might include Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and a YouTube channel, but can include so much more! I believe that as you mentioned, a brand that has existed officially in the social mass media world has a much better opportunity to steer issues into the clear before they become “crisis” situations. Plus, also as you mentioned, having a fan base and advocates never hurts. However, the damage done to the Dominos brand, no matter the counter-PR crisis methods, is forever lessened. Let’s just say, I will be with Mrs. Defren for the time being and order from another brand.

  • Lizzie says:

    Good point Todd, I think it is important for companies to get a jump on crisis communication especially if something like this has happened, but I also don’t think they should make a statement right away. If people haven’t heard about it yet you don’t want to worry them by making such a blanket statement. Big companies should really join social media way before a crisis erupts. I do like how Domino’s did not make statements on Twitter or similar social networks, I think it was very smart of them to wait and make a public address because it showed that the company cares enough to make a thoughtful apology.

  • Matt Stude says:

    I found this issue extremely interesting in that I had never heard of anything like this. The Internet is extremely helpful as a social media tool and for feedback, however, this demonstrates how it can just as easily injure a brand or company as it can help. I think it is more than obvious that this negatively affects the image of Dominos, and other pizza companies for that matter. When I heard about this, not only did my perception and desire for Dominos Pizza decrease, but my desire for all pizza delivery companies. Everyone is aware of the ability for employees to tamper with food, this just brings this negative thought and association back to mind.
    Social media on the Internet is growing and evolving in a way that is intimidating and difficult to understand. I think companies should take action to get involved in social media. It is easy to fear that which we do not understand, but by getting involved early, organizations and large companies won’t be forced to do this though damage control.

  • Erin says:

    I agree that big brand companies should join social media before a crisis forces them to. Without these crises, would these companies have even made an attempt to engage customers? I doubt it. It is good that they are responding, but they should have been aware and involved with customers long before the limelight came their way in such a negative manner.

  • Loren says:

    I think big brand companies should join social media before a crisis erupts. Since there is now so much advertising done through social media, it could help companies build a positive brand image before something goes terribly wrong within their company. Instead of having to get started with social media last minute, you have already got your brand established with social media users. However, I’m not sure this would have helped much in the Dominoe’s situation, simply because of what did happen. Most people would have a hard time getting over something like that and going back to that brand regardless of what their image was prior to that. Or at least I know I would.

  • Keith Trivitt says:

    Great post, Todd, and certainly something that happens all too often in the corporate world. How many times do we see corporations all giddy about wanting to reach out and attract more new customers. But once they realize that they will (a) actually have to stay up-to-date with their connections with customers via social media and community outreach programs; and (b) can’t just throw out “corporate speak” and marketing ideas every time something new comes up, all of a sudden, that company no longer seems as inclined to be involved with social media initiatives. That is, until some big crisis arrives, and then, unless the company is Amazon on a gay/lesbian book reorganization, it goes all out with social media practice so try to reach the masses as quickly as possible with a clean and cheery message.

    I will say, however, that as long as the company faced with a crisis doesn’t try to continue to do the old ways of giving a one-way speech when a crisis happens, and instead actively tries to engage itself with its customers, then I really have no problem with a corporation joining in on social media practices once a crisis hits. To that end, I will give Dominos and @dpzinfo credit for what they have done after this crisis. They were proactive with their approach, didn’t throw us corporate speech via their interactions on Twitter and genuinely seemed to want to make their social media connections a lasting relationship, rather than just a stop-gap to get the company past this crisis.

  • Andi Narvaez says:

    Good point.

    I think it’s commendable that some brands have jumped on to social media with the intention of understanding it first and then using it proactively to communicate with customers. i don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing that other brands are getting scared into joining the rest of us in the social sphere.

    As long as they understand that the value of social media from a brand standpoint is to be able to listen to conversations so as to address concerns, learn from positive and negative feedback and to create new channels to engage and develop better customer relationships – then I’m good.

    If brands start jumping in and using social media frantically… than I’m concerned.

    Here is a great article from today’s LA Times about how brands are responding to conversations about them on social media networks / channels:


  • George Snell says:

    Hi Todd:
    Do you really want to live in a society where webcams are watching all of us? We live in the United States – not Oceania.

  • I think a great example of being involved with social media BEFORE there is a problem comes from Ford. Scott Monty of Ford has established a great following and people respect his input and voice as human – not as some corporate bad guy. When a mini-Web crisis developed with a Ford fan site, Scott was able to utilize Twitter to present the facts, answer questions and calm the storm before the situation could escalate even further. He had already built a strong following of tweeters that were willing to listen, re-tweet and share the facts of the situation. See: http://www.scribd.com/doc/9204719/The-Ranger-Station-Fire

  • Very interesting post. I think companies are in a tough spot right now because so many of them are just starting to hear about / think about using mediums like twitter and youtube to leverage their customer service. They will all eventually figure it out and it will become mainstream, but until then, some may have to figure it out via crisis. Once they are up with the times however, grossly wrong incidents like the former can easily be avoided.

  • Rita says:

    This is a great point, but not a new concept. Crisis Communicators and other communication professionals have been advising clients to get involved early for decades (yes, before the Internet!). They tell clients to communicate openly and to listen to their audience in order to not only address conflict and potential crisis situations before they become a crisis, but to build a community of people who will remember the company positively and be willing to defend it against attacks during a bad time. I remember a professor who referred to it as “stocking up good will.”

    While many of our clients may be afraid of SM, it is really just a new way to do old business. Those who jump in first have the luxury of learning and growing with a medium. Those who wait until the crisis hits may fall victim to the learner’s faux pas at a critical time.

  • Chuck Hemann says:

    Todd – a great post. It is a sad commentary on some of the major brands that they need a crisis to truly get engaged with their customers through social networks. That said, there’s always going to be the early adopters, the followers and the group that says, “oh crap!” I applaud Dominos, and others like them for at least realizing that they’ve made a mistake and get engaged. The true harm would be getting exposed and then continuing along the same path.

  • I support brand terrorism if it wakes up major companies to the fact that they need a comprehensive strategy for social media…and not just one to put out fires.

    We can teach them a ton about the right ways to do things…if they let us.

  • Ryan Miller says:


    Enjoyed your post as usual. All I can add is that I think I give brands the benefit of the doubt when joining SM, however I’m less concerned that they do it out of a crisis, and more concerned that they do it out of seeing SM tools as a megaphone or another way of pushing advertising at me.

    So long as show respect, listen, and participate, then its not important to my how they got here, but what they’ll do now that they’re here.


  • Laura Sury says:

    All good points. As I read on a blog today (www.everydaypr.net) the worst time to try to start making friends and building relationships is during the crisis. Companies have got to realize that sooner of later.

  • BJ Emerson says:

    Great post. I think that from a reputation management standpoint, the sooner the better for any company that desires to participate in the discussions and content that is being generated by customers.

    It starts with getting visibility to what is out there and being aware and responsive to both the positive and negative. Step 1 is listen.

  • I think social media seems so terrifying and incomprehensible to most large companies, they’d rather NOT dive until UNTIL a travesty forces them to do so via damage control. You’re right to encourage companies to be proactive, but — as with “green” technology — even smart ideas don’t catch on until there’s a fiscal need to change the status quo.

  • Jeff Donald says:

    Great post that further highlights how communications should be integrated into the operations of most business instead of being treated as an add-on.

    In the pizza example, an operational crisis would be things like a supply shortage or inability to staff fully. Companies go to great lenghts to plan for these contingencies and minimize them and while you certainly can’t plan for everything, doing that groundwork in the beginning puts you in a much better place that simply reacting to the world around you. So long as a company’s business depends on communicating with the public, those communications should be treated as a similar operational necessity and steps should also be taken to minimize them.

    In business everything is viewed through the cost/benefit lens, but somehow communications is expected to provide only benefits. If you aren’t willing to accept some of the costs/risks of frontloading your communications operations, don’t expect the full benefits to be there when you really need them.

  • Maureen Jann says:

    Isn’t the practice of REACTION verses PRO-ACTION the scale that is classically always tilted towards the former in business? It costs money to fix problems, it requires manpower to fix problems.

    What I feel like corporations forget that the easiest way to grow is to innovate, and in innovation they can be proactive to solve, improve and remove opportunities for tragic employee screw-ups.

    But shouldn’t Dominoes be taking good enough care of their employees that they aren’t compelled to stick cheese up their nose? Do the employees have such little respect for the company they work for and the customers they serve?

  • Tammy Homan says:

    This is an interesting post. Reactive companies may have been ‘forced’ to join the conversation, but even so, social media has not only helped them recover from these incidents, but it’s helping their bottom line in the process. I would agree that it is probably best to join the conversation before you are ‘forced’ to, but I don’t think anyone really remembers why you start, just that you are there.

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