A couple of incidents this week demonstrated the power of the Internet's viral nature to damage or destroy otherwise well established brands. And fast.
The two incidents of note here are the Amazon.com brouhaha, commonly known to Twitter hipsters as "#amazonfail," and a YouTube video posted by two Domino's Pizza employees, which led to them both being charged as felons and issued a blow to the Domino's name.
The Amazon issue, whereby Amazon.com was called out as homophobic for removing sales ranks on gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans-gender books, was detailed in a blog earlier this week by ThinkerNetter Rob Salkowitz. Domino's digital downfall occurred when employees posted a video on YouTube (since removed) depicting their unsanitary food prep skills. As one employee stuck cheese up his nose and spread it on sandwiches, the other employee narrated, saying "Now that's how we roll at Domino's."
In both cases, the companies were forced to respond to the Webwide backlash and try to preseve their brands' reputation. But did it work? Once apparent shame or failure is broadcast -- and documented -- on the Internet, can a brand really recover?
The two companies took different measures in responding to their crises. Amazon waited a full day before issuing a statement via email late Monday, saying that the error had affected 57,310 books in various categories.
The company was criticized for not being hip to the times and responding in real-time on Twitter. Instead, Amazon waited until it could formulate a somewhat valid explanation for the error, and distributed that explanation in a closed setting (email), rather than straight to the public.
A Domino's exec, on the other hand, created a Twitter account to discuss the issue and posted a statement via YouTube. The New York Times also reports that one of the ex-employees in the video sent Domino's an email saying, "It was fake and I wish that everyone knew that!!!! [...] I AM SOO SORRY!"
Nevertheless, Domino's, too, waited to respond to the video, hoping the controversy would quiet.
Perhaps both companies should have responded more quickly. In an age where information is more emotionally charged and traveling ever faster, it doesn't seem beneficial to sit back and hope it will go away. But it's unclear whether a quicker response would have had an impact on the fired-up Web users.
In a blog post this week, Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, who championed some of the Amazon Twitter backlash, wrote that what he'd said of Amazon was wrong. But he suggested that people would still hold onto their Amazon grievances despite the fact that the thing they were mad about (Amazon's purposely removing ranks on homosexual content) didn't happen:
We're used to the future turning out differently than we expected; it happens all the time. When the past turns out differently, though, it can get really upsetting, and because people don't like that kind of upset, we're at risk of believing false things rather than revising our sense of what actually happened.
In the end, it may not matter whether Amazon was not to blame for its egregious error, or if the Domino's video was merely a high-larious prank. It may just come down to our ability to rant about something, and stick it to corporate overlords who no longer have control over the message. Whether that message is true or not may be irrelevant with Web users at the helm. It's just more fun that way, despite the cost.
— Nicole Ferraro, Site Editor, Internet Evolution