Social Media Apologia: Domino’s Interactive Response

In Apologetic rhetoric, New media on May 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm

By now, most of the hype has died down regarding the public apology on YouTube by Domino’s USA President Patrick Doyle. The apology was posted on YouTube after two former employees posted a video on YouTube showing them “appearing inappropriately” with food. What many people–even in the areas of crisis management and new media–may not realize is the extent of this social media apology.

Not only was the President’s apology posted on YouTube, but it was also posted on a company webpage with the heading: “Domino’s Customer Care.” But even that wasn’t the end of the social media outreach. The company used its Domino’s Facebook page to link to the video and issue bolstering statements such as “we care about our customers” and “Domino’s Pizza does great things for your community” (see the April 15 – 18 posts on Domino’s Facebook fan page).

Additionally, Domino’s set up  a Twitter (micro-blog) account to connect with customers, fans, and interested parties. As one of the first posts explained: “Dominos Pizza just launched @dpzinfo as the Official Corporate Info page. We r answering the call by listening 2 our customers.”

In the days that followed, the Twitter account was used to reply to concerns with statements such as:

  • This was one time at one store in the U.S. We have thousands around the world who want you to know it won’t happen where you are.
  • Thanks for your support. Our team has come together well to make sure we can talk to our customers.
  • This was an isolated incident at one store and we’re taking it VERY serious. We’re doing all we can to regain your trust.
  • Take a look here to see our response. We’re appalled.
  • I can tell you our guidelines are very strict when it comes to food handling. Lots of training on that for new team members.
  • Don’t let SES “Stupid Employee Sabotage” ruin a great business – pls support your local Domino’s Pizza.

After an initial spike in views of the “disgusting video” and negative publicity, the video’s buzz faded significantly and customer comments began sounding more positive again. In an interview, Tim McIntyre (vice president of communications for the Ann Arbor, Michigan pizza chain) attributed the quick turnaround and positive reaction to the company’s direct use of social networks.

“Are we on the mend? It’s too early to tell,” McIntyre said. “Would we do it again? Yes. It helped us get the word out. While it did expose more people to the issue, it also said Domino’s Pizza is taking this very seriously and that the thing we hold dearest is our customer’s trust.”

The response by Domino’s highlights the need for more studies on the characteristics and broad, interactive use of social media as a means for issuing apologia/apologies. In an era when many companies still see online presence as an essentially static website, Domino’s is even using progressive online tools such as Viddler to apologize to a single customer for getting an order incorrect. The short video featured an apology from both a corporate representative as well as the general manager of the actual Domino’s location where the pizza was made.

The question is, how does this compare to Mattel’s use of a web video and web text on its corporate site after the lead poisoning product recall? How does it compare to JetBlue’s failed attempt to apologize/defend itself on YouTube? Does the success of Domino’s have to do with its apologia strategy? Domino’s employed scapegoating and mortification, whereas both Mattel and JetBlue emphasized corrective action. Was the success due more to the broad use of social media at a grass roots level? Or, was the success simply due to the fact that in the Domino’s case, the offense was committed by two lower level employees, rather than the larger abstract “corporation” (as in the JetBlue case)?

Many, many questions to be researched and answered in this important intersection of social media and apologetic rhetoric.

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