Dominos explains its response to the YouTube video crisis

August 17, 2009

Tim McIntyre of Dominos Pizza explains in the PRSA Strategist article how Dominos responded to the video posted by a couple of idiotic employees on YouTube. This event helped deliver the message to corporate leaders better than almost anything I can imagine how vulnerable they were to the lack of good sense inevitable in their employee base and how social media and “going viral” represents a new and unprecedented threat to their brand value and reputation.

McIntyre does an admirable job of explaining what happened from an inside perspective. It all sounds good and reasonable but as I was reading I was thinking about my criticism of Dominos at the the time as well as every other crisis communication pundit–they were too slow. McIntyre here clearly isolates the reason what slowed them down. And in the process he highlights one of the most critical elements of crisis management: how do you assess the potential damage and how do you prevent your response from creating more damage?

On Wednesday, we learned that Domino’s as a search word had surpassed Paris Hilton for the first time ever. So that got mainstream media’s attention. We were still communicating to YouTube, communicating to these other Web sites, communicating via Twitter. And even at a million views, we were thinking, “This is fast, but there are 307 million people in America. There are a lot of people who don’t know about it; let’s focus on talking to the audience that’s talking to us.”

So they focused on trying to deal with those who were aware of it while not creating more awareness. Or, as he discusses later, cleaning up the mess in aisle five without closing all the other aisles in the grocery store (an analogy). The problem was that he didn’t really count on the viral nature of social media and how quickly it can spin out of control. Here is his answer to the question of what they could have done better in those first 24 hours:

Two things we didn’t anticipate. The first thing we didn’t anticipate was the pass-along value, or the pass-along nature of this particular video, because there was a lot of “Man, you ought to see this going on.” And the sheer explosion of interest from the traditional media. In fact, the writer for USA Today who contacted me first sent me an e-mail. The body of the e-mail said, “This is the e-mail you did not want. Please call me.” And that’s when I knew that we were going to be accelerated and we needed to take a more aggressive stance about reinforcing the message that we didn’t do this; this was done to us. (NOTE: THE EMPHASIS WAS MINE)

Here’s McIntyre’s very valuable advice about crisis communication today:

If there’s a crisis happening in the social media realm, or if there’s a fire in the social media realm, there’s a segment of the population that wants you to put on a microphone and a webcam and describe what you’re doing as you’re doing it. They want you to describe how you’re putting out the fire. And that’s an interesting phenomenon.

Absolutely right. That segment is big, powerful and very influential–and it now includes much of the media. So strap on your webcam and start talking–nonstop! It’s just not about press releases anymore folks–its about continuous 140 character updates with lots of video and images. It’s not about accuracy (heresy!!!) it is about what is happening right now and what you know right now.

McIntyre’s conclusion (and these may be the most important pieces of crisis advice you will get all year):

That would include responding on our Web site a little bit faster, hitting the Twitter community a little bit faster and talking to senior leadership a little bit faster.

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