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FedEx Deserves a Black Belt in Crisis Management for Response to Viral Video

December 22, 2011 2 comments

Earlier this week, a YouTube video from a security camera made the rounds showing a FedEx employee carelessly tossing a package (containing a computer monitor) over a fence to deliver it.  As of today, the original has over 4 million views and opportunistic content-scrapers who have re-posted to their own profiles have garnered hundreds of thousands more.

Huge public relations crisis, right?  Nope.

FedEx delivered a master class  in crisis communications with its response that should be taught in PR classrooms.  Check it out:

Let’s break down what happened (which is an affirmation of the principles articulated by Arthur W. Page):

  1. They responded quickly.  They didn’t wait for the situation to reach a tipping point; only two days passed between the uploading of the original video and the response.  Can you imagine the kind of effort it takes during the heaviest delivery season to negotiate and organize a well-crafted video response to a negative customer service experience for a global corporation?  Right now the response video is the #2 video, right under the original negative video which is #1.  It has over 116,000 views – six thousand of those were accrued in the time it took me to draft this blog post, so it’s gaining traction.
  2. They told the truth.  At no point did they try to write it off as an isolated incident, a hoax, or try to blame a third party contractor or regional human resources department.  They embraced it.
  3. They made it right with the customer (a YouTube user with the alias ‘goobie55’).  Before anything else, they reached out to the party affected and fixed the situation.  Unfortunately, goobie55 has not (yet) done the right thing – which is to post an update to the video noting FedEx’s response – hopefully that will still happen.
  4. They took it seriously.  FedEx knows how quickly information is shared online and they responded swiftly with senior management.  They didn’t let the situation linger unanswered or task local staff to handle it.  They also likely used all the resources in their arsenal – which may have included a traditional public relations pitch campaign (given the over 150 articles covering the response).
  5. They internalized the problem.  According to FedEx Senior VP Matthew Thornton, they are also are now sharing the video with employees as a case study in why careful handling of packages is important.
  6. They gave the organization a face.  You could hardly find a better face for the organization than VP Matthew Thornton; the nonverbal communication is fantastic.  He’s in a shirt and tie (no suit coat), with thick-rimmed glasses and a similarly-thick mustache – he looks like a working-class executive who is personally-invested in the company and doesn’t shy away from rolling up his sleeves.  Though he’s likely reading from a prompter, Thornton is convincing nonetheless.  In a way he projects the feel of a small business owner who knows well how accountable he is to his customers.
  7. They had a track record to stand on.  This is perhaps the most important part of any crisis is what happens BEFORE the crisis – something that can’t be emphasized enough.  Every organization needs to make quality service and products a priority (which should go without saying, but it doesn’t – plenty are operating on an old model of sub-standard quality upholstered in glitz and style).  No crisis response, no matter how eloquent, can save an organization that sucks at what they do from a high-profile example of their suckage – the companies that conduct themselves that way are only able to do so because they’re a monopoly (think AT&T or Comcast).

The only improvement I might have made is to have Thornton add an action item at the end of his video (you can provide hyperlinks within YouTube videos very easily) that invited any other customers with a bad experience to immediately share, or link directly to the process for resolving disputes, it so it could be fixed.  But that’s just me nit-picking.

Hopefully a lot of people are able to learn from this – kudos to FedEx.

Evolution of a Viral Video in 14 Stages (Cartoon)

August 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s the evolution of the average viral video in 14 stages…

Cartoon: The Evolution of a Viral Video in 14 Stages by @DerekDeVries

 

OK Go has a new Video: Cue the Marketers Drawing the Wrong Conclusions About its Popularity

November 16, 2010 1 comment

Every time OK Go releases another “viral” video, a new crop of marketers sets to work reverse-engineering it and trying to identify the magical keys to producing the same type of success for breakfast pastries or real estate services.  This phenomena happens with alarming regularity, and I’ve already commented on it (Be Careful of Broad Strokes).  It’s the wrong approach, and it’s the reason there are so many “also-ran” campaigns (like Orbitz attempt to repeat Old Spice’s success).

The idea of “viral videos” and trying to understand works of art and culture that the masses embrace highlights the problem I have with marketing as a discipline.

My beef with marketers is that they’re all about doing anything to avoid the real work of engaging people one-to-one and instead trying to game the system.  Marketing has its place (and always will), but in the era of social media it’s on the decline because it doesn’t suit the medium (which grew, in part, out of a rejection of the advertising-saturated, over-marketed traditional media).

Videos don’t go viral; ideas do.

If you don’t have an idea worth sharing, you can’t have a viral video (or a viral anything).  Marketers ignore the videos OK Go has produced that haven’t been wildly-popular.  “Here it Goes Again” notched nearly 54 million views, but “Do What You Want”? – 2.6 million.  “WTF”? – 808k.  Even “Last Leaf” has only hit 215k views this far.

OK Go produces music for themselves and their core fans – so they’re not worried about pleasing everyone.  That’s what gives them the intangible and invaluable quality of AUTHENTICITY.

OK Go Pink EP

OK Go Pink EP

 

I should disclose that I feel a certain overprotective obligation to OK Go; I’ve been a fan since I blundered up to their merch table at a show in Ann Arbor and asked to buy both of their three-song EPs by mispronouncing the band name as “Ock-go” as a result of their logo smashing the words together.

They hooked me by choosing an obscure B-side (“Kiss me, Son of God”) from They Might be Giants “Lincoln” album to play as a cover tribute when opening for TMBG at that first show.  Since then, I’ve seen them spontaneously break out into an a Capella Les Miserables performance, invite the entire audience up on stage to dance with them, and publish a kampy boy-band dance video.

In the space between those performances, they kept me hooked by staying in contact with me online and hitting the pavement (I was at a Tenacious D show in Grand Rapids and Tim Nordwind, bassist for OK Go, handed me a flyer for an after-show performance at a local bar).

The success OK Go has experienced is primarily because they’ve rejected the traditional marketing dogma:

  • They labored for years creating interpersonal relationships with fans centered on their unique, catchy alt-pop and the performance art that goes along with it.  The creativity in their videos is the same creativity they bring to live shows (fortunately now they have more resources with which to express themselves).  Their videos are spread so quickly because their rabid fan base forms a strong platform of TRUSTED NETWORKS who share them.
  • They left EMI Records because the company (among other things) refused to allow their videos to be posted to YouTube so that they could be embedded anywhere (ie easily-shared).  The company thought it was more important to drive traffic to the band website. (Sound familiar?)
  • When their album “Oh No” was released, part of the promotional campaign included a racing video game where players retrieve kidnapped members of the bands amid references to lingonberries (a nod to Sweden where the band had recorded the album).  They’re not afraid of aiming small with the audience.  They don’t want ALL the ears to hear their music – they want the RIGHT ONES.

Here’s a perfect metaphor for where marketers usually get things wrong:

The Rube Goldberg-esque video for “This Too Shall Pass” STARTED with the idea for the video, and the sponsorship by State Farm Insurance came after the idea (as a means of realizing the idea).

If you START with the advertisement or the money and try to add the idea after – you’re bound to fail.

It’s the same with creating an audience for anything; you have to do the hard work of earning trust one-on-one before you can expect financial returns from that trust.  Since when is anything “worth doing” easy?

Be Careful of Broad Strokes

December 16, 2009 1 comment

Our busy world frequently demands that messages be impossibly concise.  I think about this concept often as I read bestselling nonfiction books.  They often succumb to the temptation of summarizing a complex idea in an a metaphor or case in point.  Too frequently, if one examines these examples, there are loose threads that undermine the entire argument being made by the author.

Mike Doughty caught a good one in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”;

“One of his examples is that the Beatles’ success is predicated on their having played 8 hours a night, five nights a week in Hamburg. They got the 10,000 hours he deems necessary for expertise, and hence their artistic preeminence.

But the primary factor in that preeminence is songwriting–which they didn’t do in Hamburg. And the covers they played all night, when they ended up on Beatles albums, sound pretty stiff–“Roll Over Beethoven,” for instance. The best thing a million gigs can do for a band is tighten up the rhythm section–and most of their time in Hamburg, they played without Ringo (and anybody who fronts on Ringo, the fattest, heftiest rock drummer that ever was, is a sucker)–they played with Pete Best, who got fired. The secret weapon in the Beatles is Paul McCartney’s bass playing (I got a bootleg of some solo-ed Paul bass lines, and the sound, the style, and his rhythmic acumen is astonishing)–and he didn’t play bass in Hamburg–Stu Sutcliffe, who died before they started recording, did.”

I think of that when I hear people cite Ok Go’s “Dancing Treadmills” video for their song “Here it Goes Again” shows that you can shoot to prominence on the strength of a single viral video.  Like the Gladwell’s Beatles example, however, the truth is unsatisfyingly complex.

What’s important to realize is that the video never would have gone viral if Ok Go wasn’t a great band that toured relentlessly and valued a one-on-one connection to its fans – who are rabid as a result.  I should know; I have photos on my file cabinet of me with Damien Kulash and Tim Nordwind.
Here’s why:  the “treadmills” video was preceded by a similar low-fi video for “A Million Ways” featuring the alt. rock quartet atypically doing a boy band-ish dance routine to an alt. rock song (typical of their sense of humor) that the band had put together after an appearance on a kampy cable access show in Chicago.  Neither would have gone viral without the sweat that went into building that audience in the first place (a point Seth Godin makes well in “Tribes”).

Not only that, but Ok Go was first introduced to many people on the coattails of They Might be Giants (another band that has been doing social media well since before it had a name; building relationships one-by-one) – who lent them access to their numerous fans by featuring them as an opening act on a 2002 tour.

So be careful about painting in broad strokes; they can obscure more than they reveal.