Crisis management through social media

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Last Friday night, Johnson & Johnson made a massive recall of a number of children’s and infant’s Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and Zyrtec products. The release was issued at 9 pm, presumably when mass media could or would not cover it. It wasn’t really breaking news, so interrupting programming wasn’t an option. 9 pm made it a little too late to work it into late night news packages, not to mention the smaller audiences garnered by late Friday news programs. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a topic that could be swept under the rug given the millions of parents who utilize these products.
Twenty years ago, the public would have heard about this story the next day on the morning, noon or evening news…or perhaps in the newspaper. Not today. The blogosphere, Twitterverse and Facebook-galaxy lit up right away, bringing notoriety to J&J’s approach immediately.
Parents immediately started dialing the 1-800 number, only to hear a recorded message of a person reading the exact press release that had been issued. I personally visited J&J’s website to try to find the serial numbers of the recalled products and found the list buried 5 clicks in through a series of links at the bottom of several pages or deep within paragraphs and paragraphs of industry jargon. Most online users wouldn’t be so persistent.
Adage’s article on this topic cites J&J as the most reputable company in the United States. So, why can’t such a company get this social media thing right? You’d think the most reputable company would have a team in place to respond to the social media pandemonium that ensued this past weekend.
What makes it even more remarkable is that J&J is behind one of the best social sites I have found for parents – BabyCenter.com. The site is amazing – it tracks along with pregnancy and the consequent age of your child to give you timely information as your little one develops. The site knows, for example, that my child is 23 months old and gives me information specific to this stage of development.  And, it’s not just the basic stuff – they undoubtedy have educated mommies and daddies writing for them, not just child psychologists.
J&J clearly gets it, based on this robust site…so, why the misstep with a recall like this? Especially since 2009 was the year of the Mom with regard to social media. Mashable identified hundreds of Twitter streams, active Facebook fan pages, blogs and niche social sites, for moms that were huge traffic drivers last year. Seems like an active social media communications department could tap into this network to spread the word in a transparent, positive way, rather than through a firestorm of inquisitive and highly vocal online parents.
But, the real lesson here is the immaterial nature of time, a recent evolution in our society. It didn’t matter that J&J released their information at 9 pm on Friday night – we still got it. Even more, we reacted. The two-way communication of social media has made the consumer, rather than the marketer, the messaging engine. And this messaging happens with little to no regard for time of day.

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Rob Womack

If there’s anyone who can honestly say, “Been there, done that,” it’s Rob. After traveling the world for seven years in his 20’s, Rob went to LA and started working in film production. Then it was off to New York, where he learned how to program, which eventually brought him back home to Louisville to build websites. At Current360, Rob heads up our in-house production studio, creating all things digital for our clients — videos, commercials, radio spots, and a lot more. 

When he’s at home, Rob likes to create things like homemade kombucha and music.