Somebody needs to send Chick-fil-A Inc. the memo that social media has become part of business intelligence. For a company steeped in BI, the popular fast food chain demonstrated a stunning lapse in the last two weeks.
It all started with an explosion set off by Dan T. Cathy, the president and COO, who built a PR bomb with his comments in a July 16 interview and then lit the fuse when he reiterated his beliefs about same-sex marriage on a talk show later that week.
Ever since, the Internet and social media have flared with diatribes on both sides of the issue. But instead of taking the high road, Chick-fil-A appears to be operating from a disconnect on the social media front.
On Facebook last night, the company denied that it had used a phony Facebook account to weigh in on a thread over Cathy's position. Here's the official statement:
Hey Fans, thanks for being supportive. There is a lot of misinformation out there. The latest is we have been accused of impersonating a teenager with a fake Facebook profile. We want you to know we would never do anything like that and this claim is 100% false. Please share with this with your friends.
The Facebook issue started when a "person" named Abby Farle turned up on the food chain's page arguing against claims that Chick-fil-A had canceled orders for toy giveaways to spite the Jim Henson Company of Muppets fame. The chain claims it canceled the orders for safety reasons. But the move came after the Jim Henson Company ended their partnership over Cathy's stance on same-sex marriage.
Facebook participants exposed Abby Farle as an account created eight hours before the thread in question, using a stock photo. (You can see the lettering over the headshot.) "Nice try by Chick-fil-a PR guy," wrote one poster.
The Abby Farle debacle wasn't the only recent embarrassing moment for Chick-fil-A on social media. Immediately after Cathy's comments started burning up the Net, the company posted the following statement on its Facebook page:
The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect -- regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.
Granted, it's entirely possible that Chick-fil-A, as a corporate entity, stands apart from Mr. Cathy's views. But denying the views of the president of a family-owned business whose founder, S. Truett Cathy (Dan's father), remains chairman and CEO -- it challenges belief.
At the very least, Chick-fil-A should have learned more about social media, given its expertise and finesse in BI and IT overall.
And make no mistake. Business intelligence plays a leading role at Chick-fil-A. Its officers and directors include a vice president of business analysis (Roger E. Blythe, Jr.); a senior director of financial, people, and BI systems (Mark L. Brackett); a senior director of business analysis (Sandi T. Moody); and a CIO (Michael E. Erbrick). It also has a sizable business analysis division, with interns, supervisors, and managers of BI.
In terms of IT, Chick-fil-A also has numerous IT subdivisions dedicated to applications, mobility, and other key areas. With a state-of-the-art corporate structure in support of BI, how can it stumble so badly when it comes to social media?
At the very least, it should have been ready for the fallout. Presumably, if social media had been incorporated into its business intelligence systems more effectively, the company may have anticipated the feedback and been prepared to dedicate people full time to dealing with it on Facebook and elsewhere. Certainly, the controversy would have persisted, but denial and backpedaling aren't really strategies that work well on social networks.
Queries by phone and email to Chick-fil-A's PR department about the role of social media in its BI systems remained unanswered at the time of this writing. But it may be telling that, in a job posting for a business intelligence analyst that appeared within the last few months, there is no mention of social media, despite a list of requirements for technical knowledge and skills in gathering information.
We'll wait to hear something. In the meantime, could someone please let Chick-fil-A in on the concept of social business?
— Mary Jander , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution