To celebrate Labor Day Weekend, I'm going to take a look at some interesting case studies in public relations and discuss how social media made (or could have made) a huge difference. I know, I know..... some of you are going to the beach and grilling hot dogs and throwing away all your white clothes this weekend. Those are all fun alternatives to PR case studies, but not as exciting.
So, for Part 1, we'll open our history books to 1982. Tylenol was a leader in the pain-killer market, but the company would face a huge crisis when an individual (or a few individuals) added cyanide to some containers of the over-the-counter drug. Seven people died in and around Chicago, and local news teams starting making phone calls to Johnson and Johnson, the makers of Tylenol.
The company hadn't heard about the problem before the phones starting ringing, and they could have reacted in a variety of ways, but admirably decided to alert the entire nation by recalling every container of Tylenol on the shelves. Rather than sending their condolences to the families of the deceased and moving on, they took full control of the situation and assured their customers all over the world that the drug was safe. They added tamper-proof lids so future consumers knew if a container was opened after it left the factory.Here's where social media could have (and would have) played a role. Rather than hearing about the disaster from news stations, Johnson and Johnson would have likely read about it on blogs, twitter feeds, and the Yahoo! home page. Rather than having a conversation with a few media outlets waiting to break the news, they would have been dousing wildfires like the brave men and women in Southern California.
For big businesses like Johnson and Johnson, the "social media-sphere" can seem like a natural disaster waiting to happen. One match on a pile of dry kindling, and we all know what happens. That's why it's more important than ever for businesses to have public relations foresight. But even more important, because only hindsight is 20-20, is for businesses to open up their channels of communication TODAY instead of waiting for the disaster to strike.
In large forests, conservationists will sometimes cut channels to divide the trees into sections and make wildfires easier to contain. In the same way, businesses should use social media outlets to get closer to their customers and build trust and loyalty. So when something bad happens, there are channels to navigate from the inside to contain the spread of harmful messages and rumors.
Part 2 tomorrow: Gauging Sigg's recent announcement about BPA in their water bottles