[Scott Monty kept in touch for Ford. Photo by TVanHoosear]
NOTE: The following is an early draft of what will go into Twitterville's Chapter on Support & Customer Power. The story broke and went full cycle last week. I almost missed because I was so busy working on other pieces of the chapter. It will go through a few iterations before it gets finalized for the book.
Most people don’t like Cease & Desist letters.
So when Twitterville learned two weeks before Christmas and just two days after Detroit automakers had asked Congress for a $35 billion bailout that Ford Motors had sent a cease and desist letters to The Ranger Station one of its own fan sites, and had demanded $5000 in financial compensation,I almost instantly heard a resounding “Bah Humbug” spread across the global neighborhoods.
There was one catch: Scott Monty was asking people to hold off on their condemnation even as the torches were being dipped in kerosene and passed around from one Tweeter to the next. On one hand, Monty was the top social media officer for Ford Motors. He had joined the company in July. His job included making nice to the public on Twitter for Ford. So why should anyone believe or trust what he had to say?
The answer was that Monty had street credibility. People knew him in Twitterville for nearly two years before he got to Ford. When the incident broke, he had over 5500 followers; had posted over 8000 updates and no one seemed to have ever accused him of speaking a mistruth. That would remain important as this story rolled out through hundreds of Tweets with great speed and passion.
Monty had first learned there was an incident just before he went to bed at 10:30 pm. The first thing he learned on Twitter at 5:30 the next morning was that the story had spread. The Ranger fan site owner had been trying to drum up support. Now, other fan sites wanted to know if Ford planned to come after them as well.
Monty, is obviously no Motrin Mom, but he knew a major PR headache when he saw one. He knew he had not a moment to lose. He gulped down his coffee and went to his Dearborn office.
He got to work as fast as he could, but “I realized that this was not just confined to a couple of sites or Twitter. Our customer service people had received over 1,000 emails overnight expressing anger over Ford in these already trying times.” He started tracking down the legal people, learning there indeed had been an incident.
A letter had been sent to TheRangerStation demanding $5000 in damage payments for trademark infringement and the Ford-loving site was also ordered to stop using the “Ranger” name in its URL. But, he was told emphatically, Ford had very good reason to go after the fan site.
So just as the torches were being lit, and indignant protestations of Ford bullying its most loyal customer began to hit a fever pitch, Monty logged onto Twitter and asked people to hold off: there was “more to the story.” That slowed down commentary. A little later he added, there was counterfeiting of Ford trademark properties involved. That froze the conversation and bought him some time.
“Some time,” in a PR crisis a few years ago used to translate into about four days. Times change. Monty figured he had bought Ford a few hours.
Monty used the Internet, mostly Twitter Search to dig out more facts. He needed to understand who was saying what about the incident. First, Monty had to filter out all the Fords not relevant to the issue--Gerald, Betty, Harrison, Lita, even Henry and Edsel.
Every time he saw someone posting about the incident, he jumped into the conversation, confirming there was an incident but there was more to the story.
At about 4 pm, Monty finally got authorization to post Ford’s side of the story].
It was a long and polite post. His key point was, “ What was not mentioned was that TheRangerStation.com was selling counterfeit Ford-brand merchandise on the site. . . We cannot let something like that pass.”
He got the site owner to confirm that he had omitted the counterfeiting part in telling the world about the C&D letter. He announced that Ford is happy to license its name and trademarks to fan and other sites and since the counterfeit goods have been removed from TheRangerStation website it was being encouraged to keep its name and was no longer being directed to pay Ford anything.
Over at TheRangerStation the site owner posted a notice confirming Monty’s side of the story.
Monty tweeted links to both his statement and the fan site statement. He asked people to retweet the links so that misinformation could be squelched and hundreds of Monty followers did precisely that.
Monty could go home for dinner that night. It had been a Hell of a day, but the entire disaster had mounted, threatened and been turned around in less than a day, mostly through the efforts of one social media professional.
“Would this have worked for Ford if we didn't have a Twitter presence? It would have been far slower and the response would have had a much smaller impact. Searching Twitter throughout the day kept me in the loop with what was being posted and where - it was the Country Store, where people came in and out and shared their gossip, and there I was sitting by the pickle barrel...”
There is another fundamental issue. If your company finds itself in a reputation crisis, it is highly likely to spill into the social media. When it hits Twitter it is likely to move the fastest and go the furthest.
It would be real smart for you to have someone who is already known and trusted in Twitterville when that happens.