Bad Press, Good Publicity? Social Networks Beg to Differ

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In a lot of hand-me-down public relations wisdom, we used to hear “there’s no such thing as negative press” and “any publicity is good publicity.” But in today’s socially networked world where online anecdotes spread faster than rumors about free donuts in the break room, do adages like these still apply? Is any publicity actually still good publicity?

Public shamings of the sort that occurred during the Amy’s Baking Company debacle show how an angry public can quickly overwhelm a company’s Facebook Page, Yelp account, and other social media profiles. That kind of negative publicity can take a long time to decompress. Imagine the array of blog posts and articles that will still show up years from now when somebody decides to look up reviews for an innocuous sounding neighborhood restaurant.

More recently, Adecco, a workforce solutions company, got caught in the shame cycle when they released a new contest to the public. Its theme, “Around the World in 80 Jobs,” bore an eerie resemblance to Turner Barr’s blog “Around the World in 80 Jobs” on which he had been working for two years.

Barr posted “How I Got Fired from the Job I Invented” detailing the corporate swipe of his intellectual property and the public responded.

Barr’s petition for Adecco to stop using his brand was picked up on Reddit and retweeted all over Twitter with the hashtag #makeitright. Adecco’s website, which features a Twitter scroll, was soon filled with accusatory tweets from all over the world.

Their Facebook page and all previous images were met with a barrage of negative comments. When Adecco failed to properly respond to Barr’s accusations in a vague Facebook post, the public became even more incensed.

At this point, it’s unlikely that anybody would still consider this kind of negative attention good for business, right?

Companies in the new relationship revolution do have a heightened sense of responsibility when it comes to doing business. Issues that would have been undetected years ago or barely commented on are now front and center for anybody logging onto Twitter or Facebook. Barr’s story was shared with thousands of people in just a matter of days. Creating a corporate response to that level of criticism takes fast thinking and coordination.

In this case, Adecco did work to make it right by agreeing to terms that Barr requested in a public letter to the company. In all, Adecco apologized, stopped using Barr’s brand, compensated Barr, and made a donation to a charity of his choice.

In a post on their Facebook Page, Adecco wrote, “We’ve learned a lot in the past few weeks. We will work to make this right. We will do this because we are a company of great people who sometimes make mistakes, learn from them and do better next time.”

What do you think? Is any and all publicity still good for business?

Chris O'Brien

Chris is a 15-year creative services veteran, with a background in copywriting, content management and graphic design. She works with the Aspect marketing and product teams developing digital assets (like infographics and ebooks) to help businesses make smart customer contact decisions.
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