Background: The background here is an angry customer complaining that he was having trouble getting the promised rewards from the My Coke Rewards Program, in which customers can register to participate in the program and start entering codes from 15 different Coca Cola brands, three points on bottles of Coca Cola, for instance, in sizes from 12 oz. up to 2 liter, simply logging in the codes from underneath the bottle caps or from the packaging. When you’ve built up enough points, you can begin trading them in for products from the My Coke Rewards (MCR) catalog. You can trade 165 points for a box of Ritz crackers, an 8 GB MP3 player for 1,500, 50 4-inch-by-6-inch photo prints from Snapfish for 50 points, and so on, lunch bags (350 points) and messenger bags (650 points) made from plastic recycled out of beverage bottles. There is much more.
One customer, apparently, had problems with the system and tweeted his unhappiness.
Situation analysis: Coca Cola has an active social media presence. Twitter is just one avenue. One blogging site, which seems to be dedicated to commercial Twitter accounts, says Coke has more than 300,000 active followers. Fearn-Banks said the complaining party in this case had 10,000 followers. While I am not familiar with the dynamics of Twitter, it seems like something that could snowball fairly quickly. One complaint passed around the world of Twitter could certainly earn a lot of bad attention for any company, especially with the re-tweeting common in that universe.
Strategies: The blog site, eWay/Direct, is an “interactive marketing agency that helps you maximize your online revenue,” reports that Coke “answers everyone that mentions them on Twitter, and they do this in a timely and personal way. Every tweet is very unique. The people who run the account sign each tweet they reply to with their own initials, giving their account more of a human touch. They also occasionally tweet in Spanish, which fits with their overall global social media strategy and helps them reach out to customers in other countries.”
This means that Coke has an aggressive and massive monitoring system set up to track mentions on Twitter. One could assume, I think, a similar monitoring program for any other social media they use. That would be a necessity.
Judging by Fearn-Banks account of this customer, one of their strategies certainly is to take complaints seriously and then try to deal with them in a treat-the-customer-right way. Searching the Web for this particular case, I found another Tweet from a customer having trouble navigating the MCR Program. I was unable to find if that customer had been satisfied. At the time of the tweet I read, her avatar certainly was not her with a can of Coke.
However, the search did reveal another risk to the company: phishing scams. Another tweet was from a person in India, who had received an email from Coca Cola announcing that he had won a fantastic sum of money, in British pounds, in a promotional program that selected winners by picking random email addresses. All he had to do, was deposit a vastly smaller sum of money to open an account. A British diplomatic representative even flew out to India personally, after the money was deposited, to get his personal information and another deposit. The gentleman was perplexed that after the diplomat left he never heard back, his emails went unanswered and the phone was disconnected. He is the president of a teachers college. He eventually found his way to the real Coca Cola, which naturally disavowed any contact with the man.
This also is not the only scam involving Coca Cola directly. In addition to whatever individual responses the company makes, its website posted a disclaimer on not only scams that used its name but others as well, of several different types. The link to the informational page was from Coca Cola’s general disclaimer to several types of scams that used its name.
Consequences: The strategy of close monitoring and quick response must be effective. The Coca Cola name has not made the news in association with any individual or mass complaints about problems with either the MCR Program or with the several phishing and other scams that invoke Coca Cola.
Comments: The Internet is the new frontier for commerce, news, media relations, public relations and social relations. It provides the power and opportunity, for individuals, companies and organizations, to vastly increase reach into the world. In this way it is a great opportunity. The other side of that coin, however, is that it also vastly increases risk. The world and the malevolent or just ignorant individuals in it can reach you much more easily, whether you are a large corporation, a small business, a non-profit organization or an individual. This case, a simple unhappy individual customer posing a potentially very expensive risk to a high-dollar marketing campaign, is just one example. Consider also the cases of cyber-bullying, at least one of which resulted in a suicide, or the years-long battle Procter and Gamble has waged against rumors of it “satanic” logo. The types number in the thousands.
It seems that any campaign of any kind that is going to use the resources of the Internet and the reach of social media should have a special section of its own for crisis communications to answer questions like “How do we deal with customers who take their complaints online? How will we respond? Who will deal with them? What authority will that person have? What resources will we devote to preparation? What resources to reparation? What is our policy, and how will we communicate it?” Coca Cola, when it first began establishing its presence on the Web, probably didn’t anticipate becoming a tool of scammers. The marketing team probably did not anticipate anything like Facebook or Twitter back in the ’90s. They have had to learn through experience.
It also makes me think that, perhaps, a component of any crisis communications plan should be a section on dealing with the kind of virtual crisis than engulf you totally aside from any actual physical disaster, something that just comes out of the blue of the Internet – somebody using your name for his own scam, or somebody with a real complaint but going to his online followers instead of contacting you.
A general purpose plan to deal specifically with Internet threats, in conjunction or separate from a crisis communications plan for specific threats, might be a good idea.
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