Social media crises for McDonalds, Mattel; Nissan'
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Social media crises for McDonalds, Mattel; Nissan'

Paul Holmes

• If the Internet has demonstrated anything, it’s that no headline, rumor or libel is so ridiculous that someone somewhere won’t believe it (see this collection of reactions to news stories from The Onion). So it’s no surprise that when a rumor started to spread that McDonald’s was charging African-American customers an additional $1.50 as “an insurance measure,” there were some who took it seriously. The best defense against this kind of misinformation is good public relations—particularly with the demographic being targeted. Fortunately, my guess is that McDonald’s has invested in its relationships with minority consumers pretty heavily over the years, and the company will ride this one out without too much damage. • Mattel is another company under fire in the social media realm, with Barbie being set up as the latest villain in the destruction of the rain forests. So far the company does not appear to be responding to the issue with a spirit of transparency and engagement. “When activists Tuesday began posting critical messages on Barbie’s Facebook fan page, which has 2.2 million followers, Mattel shut down commenting on the page and deleted any mention of rain forests.” It’s hard to believe that the sourcing of packaging materials is an issue so critical that it’s worth alienating environmentally-conscious little girls. • The FT provides an interesting article about Nissan’s public relations department, reporting that “when Carlos Ghosn… toured the carmaker’s earthquake-damaged plant in Iwaki, Japan, last month, a camera crew followed him…. But the camera crew were not journalists, or subcontractors hired to film the event. They were employees of the in-house ‘newsroom’ Nissan created in April. The resulting film was turned round at a brisk tempo more common in 24-hour newsgathering than public relations. The carmaker streamed the visit live on YouTube, a rough cut of the film was posted on the company’s website within two hours and an edited package of stories was published within five.” Kudos to Nissan for the coverage, but don’t most large companies do something like this these days? • Farewell, food pyramid, we hardly knew ye. And welcome, MyPlate. Perhaps nutrition communicators will have better luck using this as a basis to persuade Americans to eat healthier. • Why is it so hard for large companies (or governments, or public figures) to apologize in the wake of wrongdoing or harm? According to Wharton professor of operations and information management Maurice Schweitzer, people are afraid to apologize for two reasons: “One is loss of status. The other is that apologizing makes you more vulnerable.” People believe that apologies “tend to threaten a loss of power.” But apologies are “incredibly powerful in terms of rebuilding a relationship,” Schweitzer says. They help people “move beyond an error. They restore a sense of rapport” among the parties involved. • I’ve never actually had a commute, but I did once have to take a train to Long Island at peak commuter time to give a speech, and I came away from that experience why anyone who didn’t have to would put themselves through such unpleasantness on a daily basis. (I have been told that it’s for lifestyle reasons—which I guess means some people actually enjoy the soul-destroying conformity of the suburbs to the vibrant diversity of the city. I suspect it’s really an excuse for people to spend less time with their families.) In any event, this Swedish survey comes as no surprise to me.
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