Domino's ramps up online strategy following prank

ANN ARBOR, MI: This week, Domino's Pizza faced a brand crisis when a video "prank" of employees in a North Carolina store mishandling food surfaced on the Internet.

ANN ARBOR, MI: This week, Domino's Pizza faced a brand crisis when a video “prank” of employees in a North Carolina store mishandling food surfaced on the Internet. The company initially became aware of the viral videos on the afternoon of April 13, and sought to “contain” the issue by reaching out to audiences who were already aware of the videos, according to Tim McIntyre, VP of corporate communications at the company.

It also fired the employees and filed complaints for the arrest of them. The pizza franchise was criticized by some for not launching a full-scale PR blitz, but in the days that followed it stepped up its efforts, launching its first corporate Twitter account (which it took over from a franchisee association Twitter feed, dpzinfo) pledging to "listen," posting information to its corporate Web site, and releasing its own YouTube video featuring the company's president Patrick Doyle apologizing for the incident and explaining its steps going forward.

“It's not a surprise that this has caused a lot of damage to our brand. It sickens me that the actions of two individuals could impact our great system,” Doyle said in the video.

By using the same medium as the former employees, the company sought to respond to concerned consumers.

“We did this [video] in the same forum these people used to do this to us,” said McIntyre. “The credit we're getting and the comments we're seeing is that we didn't hide and we haven't been ‘corporate' but responding like real people.”

With the support of advertising AOR Crispin Porter and Bogusky (CPB), McIntyre said it began to shift its online strategy on the night of April 14 to include more online outreach, including tweets from staff's personal Twitter accounts. Staffers, thereafter, began tweeting and leading people to the company's online statement on its corporate Web site, which was also posted that night.

“[CPB] were able to identify that we were not actively involved in the dialogue, and they helped us with Twitter [in terms of] our thinking, commentary, and strategy,” said McIntyre, noting the company handles PR internally.

Now the company is holding internal discussions on its strategy going forward including how social media and SEO should play a role, he added.

According to social media firm Vitrue, which does not work with the franchise, online chatter about Domino's has spiked 27% from the day before the incident to today. Vitrue's Social Media Index tracks conversations across the blogosphere and social networks including Facebook and Twitter. It didn't note whether the conversations were positive or negative.

Vitrue CEO Reggie Bradford called the video prank “very unfortunate” but noted it was an “opportunity for Domino's to become part of the conversation…establish more of a social presence.”

Getting employees and consumers on board to talk about the brand's positive attributes will help it rebuild its reputation, he added.

“I would argue that social media will be the only way they'll rebuild that trust,” Bradford said.

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