Domino's Pizza by Nemo's great uncle

I’ve been a little reluctant to chime in on the Domino’s social media crisis this past week because of the sheer volume of coverage, but after a few conversations I wanted to post some thoughts here.

If you’re not aware, on Monday, April 13, two Domino’s employees at a Conover, NC restaurant filmed themselves doing “disgusting” things to food that, in the video, they claimed was going out to customers, and then posted the video on YouTube. (Read the New York Times summary here. The original YouTube video has been removed due to copyright claims by the female employee who filmed it, but as of this posting you can view it on this site.)

The video spread like wildfire, the two employees were identified, fired and arrested, and Domino’s has had to respond to the maelstrom.

Domino’s USA President, Patrick Doyle, issued an apology and response on YouTube on Wednesday, April 15, including a detailed outline of steps the company was and will be taking to make sure such a situation never happens again. The company has also been using a new Twitter account to listen, respond to concerns and thank people for their support (when appropriate). (As of 4/20, the company response video had been viewed 538,000+ times on YouTube.)

To review the timeline:

  • Monday, 4/13: Original YouTube video posted. Company spokesman notified in the evening.
  • Tuesday, 4/14: Employees fired. Rest of company learns about the video. Store closed and health officials visit.
  • Wednesday, 4/15: President posts apology on YouTube. Company launches @dpzinfo Twitter account. Original video viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube. Employees charged with felony crimes.

I’ve read a number of sides to this issue, both supporting and critizing the company’s response. Many have criticized the company for not responding soon enough, and in the New York Times article the spokesperson says that executives hoped “the controversy would die down” and so didn’t respond immediately. Some have criticized the president’s apology video as not effective enough, saying that he looks like he’s reading a script and that he doesn’t look into the camera.

But there’s the crux, isn’t it? On the one hand people get upset when a company doesn’t respond quickly, but on the other hand, they criticize the performance of the response when it does come.

In the choice between perfect performance and getting the response out relatively quickly, I think Domino’s made the right decision.

All in all, I think that Domino’s has done a pretty good job responding to this crisis. I give them kudos for:

  1. The apology. The Domino’s video apology does all of the things that my colleague Oxana Trush said makes an effective apology in her post last month: acknowledgement of wrongdoing, expression of genuine remorse, promise to not do it again, and restitution. To me it comes across as genuine, direct and personal, regardless of the performance.
  2. Going to the source. By posting the video on YouTube and (not just on their corporate website, for example), they respond in the channel where the conversation is happening. Ditto for Twitter. And they seem to be listening. Also, on a more technical note, they use the title of the original video in their response video, “Disgusting Dominos People – Domino’s Responds,” so that when people search for the original video the company’s official response will also appear in the search results. Very smart. I know this may be obvious to most social media folks, but for other people I think this is very counter-intuitive.
  3. Matching actions to words. The best apology in the world can’t rectify an underlying problem. The company appears to be acting in ways that demonstrate their recognition of the severity of the problem and what they can do to try to change it.

What could Domino’s have done better?

  1. Maybe they could have been a little faster in their first public communications response, but I think that, all in all, they did as best they could given the circumstances. They also were taking action behind the scenes to deal with the problem directly. From my experience working with large and sometimes decentralized companies (Domino’s is a franchise organization), large organizations are often simply not equipped to respond as quickly as the online world might want. That’s changing with time, but it doesn’t change overnight. Domino’s is not the only company learning from the past weeks’ events.
  2. Had a crisis plan in place. This is just supposition, of course, because perhaps they did have a plan in place. Also, there are always going to be situations that no plan could anticipate. However, from the outside, at least, it seems like this type of thing might have been something Domino’s could have anticipated. This exact thing? Probably not. But something like, “Employee malfeasance at a franchise location” would be a category I’d include in planning.

(And then it’s not just having the plan. It’s educating employees, coaching senior staff on how to deal with the media [even if the media is talking into a camera for a web video], establishing a presence on online communities and engaging with people before a crisis hits, etc.)

But just as we’re all figuring this social media stuff out, so are large corporations too. And best efforts – not just perfect efforts – should be recognized, especially during crisis situations.

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