Friday, April 17, 2009

Social Media, Pranks & The Law

Over the last few months, I've talked about the power of social media especially amongst multicultural audiences. Social media goes beyond MySpace and Facebook, encompassing any place where groups can commune and share - YouTube, Flikr, etc. But what do companies do when consumers decide to share content they developed around a brand? And what happens if that content is a seemingly innocent prank that is potentially harmful to the brand?

Much has been written about the viral Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. Mentos shined while Diet Coke came down on the creators with a heavy-handed "cease & desist." This was rather harmless and if anything, helped both brands engage their base. In fact, Mentos launched an experiential marketing campaign around the premise and paid the creators to participate.

But today, Domino's is facing a much more daunting challenge. What does it do when two rogue employees upload a video to YouTube of themselves sticking cheese in their nose, waving salami behind their rear and place said items on a subway sandwich? The brand initially was cautious and tried not to feed the media frenzy. But just one day later, the video had been viewed over 1MM times and there was a warrant out for the arrest of the terminated employees. Heavy handed? Perhaps. But, web buzz metrics saw a steep decline in Domino's quality brand image in just one day. These types of precipitous drops are uncommon. Something they built over many years, erased in 24 hours.

The law is unclear on how to proceed. There are clear expectations of free speech on one side, and protection against defamation from the other. Only time will tell if legislators will move quickly enough to address the changing web landscape. One thing is clear, there are no easy answers and a lot of quivering brand managers out there.

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