Comment Hell or Comment Heaven

Some brands dream of having an active, passionate community, providing feedback and commentary on what they are doing, to talk about the message and the product. They try all the tricks in the book, all the viral stuff, the keywords, the linking, the reach out to bloggers to start the ball rolling with the influencers. They push the boundaries, trying something outrageous just to start a conversation.

However, you have to be careful what you wish for – sometimes you can do the simplest of things and it takes off beyond all belief, beyond your control.

Case 1 – Motrin.

Motrin (a brandname for ibuprofen) posted a video on their site last Friday a month ago*, a seemingly benign one that talked about how ‘wearing your baby’ could be a fashion statement too far, that it could lead to backache for which the drug would be perfect to fix.   Unfortunately the subject and tone were a little close to the edge and they stirred up the wrath of mommybloggers who protested on Twitter and blogs all over the weekend. David Armano has one of the best write-ups of what was happening.

He has 3 pieces of advice

1. Design Your Website For Rapid Response
2. Think Like A Blogger, Tweeter, Community & Citizen Journalist
3. Have A Google Strategy In Place

Whilst there was a lot of outage, Motrin (J&J) actually reacted with commendable speed for a weekend. Within 36 hours. the video was down (well the whole site was down, it seemed to be the only way they could remove it) , there was an apology on the site (even if Seth Godin thought it was too corporate) and they were reaching out to various bloggers. The company and the ad agency managed this pretty well, even dealing with bloggers calling them at home on the weekend when they were with their own children. There are lessons to be learnt here for all brands, what seems to be the most innocuous things can blow up and you need to be prepared and have the same sort of plan that you put in place for business interruptions and other crises.

Ad Age have a good review, with timeline. The video caused little trouble until it got posted to a BabyWearing newsgroup

Case 2 – Strictly Come Dancing.

The BBC have a popular Saturday evening show – Strictly Come Dancing. John Sergeant, regarded by the judges as one of the poorer dancers, has been taken into the heart of the public and was being saved by the voting when bottom of the judges. He finally decided that it had gone to far and decided to leave the series – which generated the kind of comment storm the BBC had never seen before. According to Tom Van Aarndt, on the BBC Internet Blog, they had over 170,000 comments on the topic, most of them on the one day (makes the Motrin strom look tiny in comparison). As new commenters are mdoerated, the backlog for the team was growing all the time, even with changes in place to the policy.

To give you an idea, we get worried when a queue reaches 500-600 unmoderated comments. By late afternoon we were running at over 2000 coments. This was in spite of putting all mods on there together along with all the temporary rule changes.

This was a team that is set up to deal with constant feedback, one of the most active sites on the web and they were completely overwhelmed even with all the planning. More lessons to be learnt – and as a product brand a situation that you never really want to be in.

So comment hell or comment heaven – what’s your choice. Even the best prepared can be caught out, but having nothing in place is far worse. So get out those planning hats and talk about what you’d do in that situation.

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2 Responses to Comment Hell or Comment Heaven

  1. I realize the makers of Motrin are taking it on the chin this week, but I wonder if they may have overreacted. They are a second tier brand in a highly competitive category, dominated by private label. Their brand has been surrounded by more buzz in the past week then they’ve seen in the past year or more. Rather then pull everything down in a rush, with apologies flying left and right, if they had thought a bit, they could have used their 15 minutes of social media fame to engage in the conversation, rather than running from it.

  2. Rachel says:

    I agree – and I’m guessing if it had not blew up on a weekend they may have taken more time to work it through and may have taken that option. But businesses, unlike social media, are rarely 24/7 and I think the bloggers and tweeters calling for action could have remembered that a little.

    My guess is they had never thought this through, did not have a plan and reacted – they knew they had to react and did the one that was probably the easiest route. That’s why it is key for brands to plan for this the same as they do for any PR crisis but mostly that seems to focus on product issues, not advertising issues.