WH Smiths and 3 other 21st Century Online PR Disasters
After retailer WH Smith found that explicit pornographic eBooks were available via it’s Kobo e-reader it is understandable they would be quite concerned about the potential impact on their family-friendly reputation – even though they were submitted by third parties.
You would have thought there would be a number of routes their webmasters could have taken to resolve the issue, but taking down the entire site and replacing it with a holding page seems to be one of the more extreme available, right alongside fleeing to Bermuda and blowing up the internet.
Two days on and their site is still down, just as we enter the Christmas period, suggesting a major lack of foresight in terms of their long-term digital strategy.
Yet Smith’s aren’t the first major brand to make a major miscalculation online…
#1: The power of a viral music video.
Have you ever had an unsatisfactory customer experience and complained to the company in question only to find them less than interested in your plight? Well take a leaf out of professional musician Dave Carroll’s book and consider writing a viral music video to tell the world about it.
Back in 2008, Carroll was travelling with United Airlines when some of the passengers noticed the baggage handlers throwing their luggage around with careless abandon – including his $3,500 Taylor guitar. Sure enough, the instrument was ruined, and the musician spent the following year chasing the airline for compensation.
However it wasn’t until he produced this video and set it loose on YouTube to go viral that the company apologised and donated $3000 to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute as per Carroll’s request.
#2. “We blew it.”
When a former Dell kiosk manager wrote to the Consumerist to reveal 22 tricks consumers could use to get the best deals from the electronics brand, the company’s legal department switched to DEFCON 1.
First they demanded the original blog post – 22 Confessions of A Former Dell Sales Manager – be removed, which the Consumerist subsequently posted on their blog. They then sent a cease and desist notice which was again published on the blog.
Finally Dell caved, and started off a blog post of its own by admitting, “We blew it.”
#3. This product is great. Honest.
When you read consumer reviews online you want to be sure that what you’re reading is genuine. You sort of expect some companies to publish fake reviews, but that’s not the mistake Belkin made – theirs was to publicly advertise for people to write them.
In 2009 student Alan Parsa found the incredibly unethical job description on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a resource for people to publish tasks they wish to be completed in return for compensation.
The task involved the writing of Belkin products and giving them a 100 per cent rating – regardless of whether he or she owned the product or not. The story went viral and Belkin was forced to apologise when consumers began a boycott of their goods.