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.


  • hitomik
    December 17, 2011, 6:04 pm  Reply

    I agree with your viewpoints. J&J did not handle this crisis well through social media. It did not make full use of the social media. The company did not keep up with the latest trend of social media. I think that J&J still consider that most mainstream US customers are accustomed to read blogs therefore the CEO of J&J posted a message about the crisis to the J&J corporate blog. But nowadays people are gathering in other places like Twitter or Facebook. The company should make responses in these social media channels. It should engage on more web sites, respond more on Facebook or have more Tweets to establish a more mature social media response strategy. As mentioned above, the CEO of J&J posted a message about the crisis to the J&J corporate blog. It`s good. But he should not stop at this step just like things are already done. In my opinion, he should hold a discussion online and encourage comments, and monitor or respond to the comments every day. J&J should also use Twitter to keep the customers and the public informed about the updated information. In addition, it should make full use of the power of YouTube. J&J can open up a channel on YouTube to provide updated information and also the executives can communicate directly to the customers to restore the reputation.

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