Posts Tagged 'social media'

The $5-billion boo boo

Many companies I consult with are still unsure about influence of  “social media” and the online world. Mostly they’re unsure about the degree of impact on them, their people, products/services, brand and ultimately, their reputation.

In short, I tell them the online world, and the rise of social media, is a phenomenon they ignore at their own peril. And that the impact is real and tangible. Glaring examples pop up frequently. The latest involves one incident with two “boo boos:” the first refers to a heart attack, the second, more importantly, refers to the fact it was misinformation.

Apple Inc.’s share price plunged, shaving $5 billion its market capitalization in three hours, in early October when someone anonymously posted a story on CNN’s iReport citizen journalism website. The post said a “reliable source” (does anyone quote unreliable sources?!) saw Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted to a hospital with a heart attack. With Apple’s success largely dependent upon Jobs (and with his appearance and health the subject of speculation in 2008), skittish investors responded by bolting from Apple stock. It took a few hours before the notoriously closed-mouthed Apple (and Jobs) confirmed that the post was not true, but by that time, word spread quickly online. The SEC has since identified an 18-year-old as the poster, and are investigating to determine if it was a prank or if he profited from the post.

The veracity of the story is less relevant than what it demonstrated: the speed and reach of the online world can have dire consequences to your business or organization. Here’s why:

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Immediacy. The Internet operates real-time. You don’t have to wait for the newspaper to be published or for the reguarlly scheduled 6 p.m. TV broadcast to get your information. The posting of information is instantaneous and 24/7, as connections to the Internet become more ubiquitous and simpler (from PCs, wireless devices, iPhones, smart phones, etc.). At the same time, accessing the information (blogs, discussion forums, etc.), photos and videos is just as immediate and can quickly gain momentum in seconds and minutes, not hours and days.

Reach. Unlike a local newspaper, the online world is not restricted by physical geography and distribution. Information in a newspaper will reach only as far as the paper carrier can throw it; a movie or video only to those in the theatre. In the online world, anyone connected to the Internet globally can access that information. People you didn’t expect, or even want, to know about certain information are only a mouse-click away. Consider that a local newspaper column is read by thousands, but an influential blog or video-sharing site, with it’s “social” component, can be viewed by tens of millions. Your information is not just in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

 

Donuts and the power and peril of social media

Was a time when news, issues, disputes, trends and the like bubbled and percolated before gaining momentum. The world was a seemingly quieter, albeit less informed place. The printing press started us down the path. Skip ahead to Marshall McLuhan and his prognostications about the “global village.” Then Vinton Cerf gives McLuhan’s revolutionary musings a technological boost and voila: paradigm shift (apologies!). How people express themselves and learn is exponentially accelerated.

Which is why Dunkin Donuts and Tim Hortons have been on the online firing line in recent weeks.

Suggestive Starbucks?

A Dunkin Donuts ad campaign featuring celebrity cook/talk show host Rachel Ray wouldn’t appear to be terrorism related. But the speed and reach of social media and can quickly spark enough momentum to influence a company to yank a multi-million-dollar campaign. The charge was led by right-wing pundit and blogger Michelle Malkin, who also supports a group railing against Starbucks for promoting family-friendliness with suggestive photos on their new coffee cups (ed. note: can a mermaid really spread her legs?!)

Society for a Free Timbit!

Coffee and donut shops were taking it on the chin in Canada before that. Tim Horton’s ran afoul when one its overzealous managers fired a part-time employee for giving a 15-cent Timbit (small donut) for free to a child of a regular customer. The blogosphere lit up with complaints and, coincidentally or not, the woman was rehired. Even the re-hiring story posted on Yahoo! Canada recorded thousands more comments.

Advocacy groups for whatever cause — charitable, political, disruptive, you name it — can quickly gain momentum online. Using all the tools of the trade — blogs, discussion forums, wikis — and spreading their gospel through feeds, trackbacks and the like, an otherwise innocuous issue or comment can take on a life of its own.

For organizations or companies, that has ominous implications. Customer complaints or product defects are immediately and widely communicated. That means companies must be monitoring and reacting to online communications before they reach a critical mass.

Consider the opportunities:

  1. Build up some goodwill (that you may need to call upon later) by engaging in ongoing conversations with customers now.
  2. The Internet is one giant focus group. Reach out to customers with new ideas or changes that might help confirm or contradict assumptions in advance of costly product or marketing development.
  3. Just as bad news can spread like wildfire, so can your promotion. Buzz building happens faster and more broadly than ever before. Use it to be pro-active. Or else others may fill the vacuum.