Even if you can’t stop them, you have to plan for Detractors

Coach Punked by PETA

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Last week Coach got punked by PETA in Facebook. Under pictures of Coach purses PETA posted dozens of pictures of skinned animals and an occasional bunny in a cage. Activists also took their beef to the brand’s wall posts. Ana Andjelic‘s tweet about the incident brought it to my attention and hours later Coach had still not taken action to remove those photos and reclaim their page. In SocialMedia–or, in other words, in today’s real-time media reality–5-minutes in this kind of a case is too long. Hours to respond is unacceptable. The response time makes me believe there was something missing in their approach.

I don’t understand how this surprised Coach. Earlier this year PETA made their intentions known through a board resolution. Coach has an active Facebook page with nearly 1.2 million likes/followers. There are clearly dedicated social media strategy and resources. Let’s also assume they have a leading monitoring mechanism in place. It’s hard to understand how this caught Coach by surprise, but a similar outcome doesn’t have to happen to you.

Working with large companies and brands, we can see how wires can get crossed between multiple departments, agencies and stakeholders. All the more reason for a plan and to create greater coordination in all aspects of consumer communications. Here’s a minimum roster of roles that need to be involved in planning and coordination:

  • PR/MarCom/Communications
  • Digital Marketing
  • Customer Service Response Team
  • Media Buying and Planning
  • Legal

PR/MarCom/Communications

Issues like the one Coach experienced are accountable all the way to the C-suite, but more likely the line-item accountability is with their PR or Communications function. PR and communications have been classically trained and historically handled matters of crisis communications, message management, media outreach, buzz and influence. For generations PR companies have been the real-time “voice” of companies and brands. This fact and how they’re compensated–largely on professional services fees or Full-Time Employee (FTE) allocation, which by no coincidence is how Social Media looks & acts–are two primary contributors for PR’s early dominance in Social Media.

As a result, most media monitoring services are designed to excel in PR-like organizations. FWIW, we find this orientation to be major limitations for our needs, but that’s an opinion for another post. The point is that any of the top monitoring services would have caught hundreds of tweets including Ana & mine about the Coach/PETA crisis in the making.

Digital Marketing

Whether the Digital Marketing team is an agency, in-house support group or core business function, most are geared to respond immediately to breaking challenges. From broken code to hacked sites, they’re on call and can respond at both Strategic and tactical levels to inform your action plan. In developing assets for a program, consider having them develop alternatives for quick replacement of graphics or messages if needed.

Customer Service/Response

Most large companies have Customer Service Response centers and facilities. Some of these are actively managing their company’s and brands’ FAQs, Facebook pages and related message boards. More often now they’re proactively responding in public areas or in Web 2.0 business and brand sites. Examples of these include Facebook, Get Satisfaction, Google and Yelp.

Media Buying and Planning

At a minimum companies should have budgets earmarked and available for search term to get ahead of how consumers and reporters research related activities. It’s a paid placement to tell the company’s story. Take a look at how Coach is handling it’s search terms: “Coach” and “Coach Leather” returns a sponsored link from the company; “Coach Fur” and “Coach PETA” returns links to PETA and specific actions they want you to take against Coach. So, you see insult to injury in the Facebook attacks.

Legal

We’ve worked with every range of legal resources and the best are those that keep the company’s best interests prioritized while still trying to achieve sales and marketing goals. The worst are caricatures out of Dilbert with MBAs in CYA. If you’re working with the former, they’re a huge value in planning for contingencies and appropriate responses.

If you don’t have an advocacy-enemy or organized detractor today, that’s great. You’ve avoided the inevitable to this point. Pulling together a multi-disciplinary task force to discuss potential threats, response initiatives, ownership/accountability and escalation paths will help you either avoid or better deal with a Coach scenario.

If you have active detractors that are organized, I’d add another session to your planning that covers dealing with these specific threats. Ask yourself how Greenpeace or PETA would campaign against you. You will need to meet them with equal intensity, strategy and tools to neutralize their actions at a minimum and keep them from disrupting the smooth operations of your business. Chances are you’ll also give new tools to your advocates in the process as well.

Any thoughts or constituents I’ve missed here?

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