We study another reputation crisis born in the social media. We will show as always measurements and metrics about this case.
@Clouzal’s pic of mice in Quick Belleville Paris, uploaded in Twitter
Clouzal is a Twitter user (@clouzal). He is apparently someone professionally or personally interested in French politics and politics journalism. He is a regular Twitter user (some 6,000 tweets) and has a substantial influencing power, with some 1,200 twitter followers. This is his public avatar at the beginning of May 2012.
He published a tweet just after midnight 1st of May 2012, with a picture attached to the message.
Here you have the tweet
— Clouzal (@Clouzal) abril 30, 2012
(Welcome to Quick at Belleville!)
Expanding the message, the photo explaining the message was a surprising six mice at least enjoying a happy meal at Quick restaurant at Belleville Paris.
Followers reacted to this disgusting image answering if it was a joke or a photo manipulation. He quickly confirmed that photos were authentic and that he took it five minutes before he published it in Twitter.
He further explains how he got the photos: the fast food restaurant was closed some 45 minutes before, but lights remained open. He took the photo from the outside.
— Clouzal (@Clouzal) abril 30, 2012
Even if this was late night, the shocking pic was retweeted fast among Twitter users in France.
I do not have the evidence if this became a Trending Topic in France lists. In any case, its diffusion in Twitter was massive and reached viral status.
And like all reputation scandals that reach viral status in social media area, it moved up promptly to traditional media, which provided coverage to the issue.
A serious hygiene problem for Quick Belleville that is not new
Also, when something born in the social media goes viral, it creates a contagion effect in all social media platforms. (See for instance FedEx case in our blog) In this case the reputation crisis emerged in Twitter. It moved to Facebook, and it moved also to Youtube. How? By awakening sleepy amateur videos showing problems in Quick restaurants, normally linked to lack of cleanliness… and mice.
Social media connexion worked again perfectly, and as soon as one hour after the first tweet, there was another tweet showing a video about mice at Quick Belleville.
— Julien Chopinaud (@JulienChopinaud) abril 30, 2012
Here the video
What makes the diffusion of this Youtube video extremely embarrassing for the crisis management of this case? This was a video about Quick Belleville restaurant, it showed several mice live freely acting in their realm. The problem was the even if some of the video protagonists are probably the same that appearing in Clouzal caption… the video was taken two months before! The video was upload by March 24, 2012, by another person walking in the street, and discovering the spectacle watching through the video.
During first two months, up to 30 April, number of views was below the 3,000 mark. Five days after it broke the barrier of 150,000 views.
There is even a third video, again from Quick Belleville, upload March 29, 2012.
There are other existing Youtube videos ‘Look a mouse in a Quick restaurant’ which have received a substantial increase of visits since the scandal at Belleville, but in a lower extent. (Watch for instance ‘La vie d’une souris chez Quick‘ or ‘Des souris en plein Quick des Champs Elysées‘)
Evidence that you have in your restaurant several mice in at least a period of two months pushes the story into the stage of a serious corporate reputation crisis with potential great damages in trust and attractiveness of the brand. In any company with average quality management this becomes a major crisis calling all your best efforts in order to minimize the damages. Quick France is a powerful brand in the food service industry in France.
Rats in empty restaurants in Paris brought immediately to mind and to Twitter messages the similarity of this case with the marvellous stories told in the excellent Pixar – Disney Movie Ratatouille.
Ratatouille movie shows a surprisingly talented countryside mouse for cuisine. It moves to Paris and develops its passion in Gusteau’s restaurant. The movie shows the charms and magic of Paris.
… but it also shows rats and mice in restaurants, surviving with food. This is still a disgusting image and a problem for branding and reputation of restaurants in Paris.
There is a happy end for Ratatouille and its friends (sorry for killing the movie), but there is no a happy end for haute cuisine Gusteau’s restaurant. Local authorities act in accordance with the problems faced by the restaurant: it is closed as not considered apt for opening to the public.
‘Closed: due to non respect of rules of hygiene and security. Reason: presence of nuisances’
We will see in this post that despite the severity of the negative impact of the crisis, the response from Quick has been bafflingly weak and lacking of commitment.
We analyze first the measurement of the impact of the scandal.
Measurement of the impact of the scandal. Twitter and social media dynamics
We will provide in this section several metrics concerning the impact of this reputation crisis.
This is again a social media born crisis, as the ignition of the scandal was launched by the tweet by @Clouzal shown above. We have studied some other reputation crisis that started in the social media, in Twitter (#Hoyesbankia case, Loewe Controversial Ad case) or in Youtube (KFC Food Tampering case in Malaysia, Fedex’s guy throuwing my computer case). Viral crisis follow their own rules and require a very specific communications crisis code. We will come back to the strategy followed by Quick France. Before it, we provide insights about the nature of this crisis by showing some metrics about the quantitative impact of the affaire.
First measure is tracking the timeline of this crisis in the source social media, Twitter.
Data in the figure shows the share of all news about Quick Belleville scandal between May 1 and May by day. We find that just one week after the scandal emerged, it is practically disappearing in Twitter communication.
The initial day sharing the pic and comments about the mice created 28% of all news. The peack of the crisis was reached the day after, as it concentrated 33% of all news. This also means that within two days the crisis creates 61% of all reactions to the story. May 3 still captures a lot of attention in Twitter, with additional 21%.
First four days concentrate 95% of all communication and anger or disgusted reaction against rats in a fast food restaurant.
This is the profile of a reputation born in the social media concerning a fact fixed in time, with no additional relevant developments in time.
This figure is also extremely clarifying concerning the need of urgency in applying the crisis communication plan when a company is dealing with a social media crisis
Now we open the analysis to the role played by the different actors intervening in a social media viral crisis. We will present first the time dynamics of each protagonist against the timeline showed by tweet mentions to Quick Belleville.
First actor is the Twitter user @Clouzal, who ignited the crisis by uploading a high quality image of mice in the kitchen of a fast food. His authorship was acknowledged in the Twitter community, as he received a lot of retweets and mentions. In many cases, the original source of a case is lost in the net and other Twitter users that pick the original message get the recognition. In this present case, @Clouzal received more than one thousand retweets to one of his messages including the photo.
As for the time evolution of mentions to @Clouzal, we find in the following figure that credits for his finding were concentrated in the first day. Mentions to @Clouzal in that day supposed 76.5% of all mentions related with the crisis. 95.5% of all mentions were concentrated within the first two days. If we compare this result with mentions to Quick Belleville (61% of all mentions during first two days), we find that references to original sources are diluted after 24h. At least in this case.
Next big stars of the story are the mice.
We have monitored the timeline of the pics shared in Twitter showing the happy mice in Quick restaurant.
Figure below shows us that the distribution of the photos follow also a faster track than general news about the scandal. First day concentrates 61% of all pics shared. First two days represent 85.6% of all shared pics. This is telling us that the harming content of a social media crisis behaves in a much more viral profile than the crisis itself. This is clearly bad news for companies affected by this king of scandals for two reasons. The first one is that this reduces dramatically the time for responding to the ugly content that people are discovering. The second one is that this result confirms that viral crisis are extremely damaging for brand reputation as the concentration of bad news in a very short period of time create more durable negative impact than a scandal more smoothly distributed in time. Shock branding, positive or negative, has deeper and more durable effects than smooth branding.
Third relevant actor increasing the size of the scandal and deepening the reputation impact of the crisis are the Youtube videos shared by Twitter users that show more mice in Quick restaurants. We have seen that there are at least two showing rats or mice in the very same Quick restaurant at Belleville Paris. Both are recorded and upload before this reputation crisis emerged. We have seen that one of them exploded in number of visits in a couple of days. Twitter shared videos is responsible for discovering related pieces of evidence of the hygiene problems. Viral and contagion diffusion is also continued by the on-line editions of newspapers that allow news including embed videos.
Empirical analysis tells us that the videos were discovered and shared already by May 1st. They reached their daily peak one day later, as May 2 received 43% of all video distribution. Number of tweets showing the outraging videos were still high during the two following days. In this case, the videos, distributed more smoothly than the pics, contributed to expand the timeline of the social media crisis, maintaining its presence in Twitter during four full days.
In a crisis there is also a forced protagonist: the company indicted of misbehavior. The presence of all brands in the social media allow costumers to react establishing a potential direct communication with the company. Of course, full communication requires a dialogue between two parts. But even if the company does not react at all, social media creates business and brand communication as social media users are witnesses of the attempts by other people to contact a company manifesting complaints, criticism, congratulations, satisfaction or gratitude. Transparency and full access to all existing content makes Twitter a tremendous branding weapon for the good and for the bad. Facebook enhances and increases visibility of costumers perceptions and reactions about a brand, but its lack of common and free access to all content limits the power of Facebook as costumers revealing sentiments.
We show in the figure below the metrics concerning the time distribution of mentions by Twitter users to the Twitter official account of Quick France, @Quick_france. Mentions to the company are calls by scandalized mice pic viewers to Quick management to react and explain their position about the terrible hygiene mistake.
Calls to Quick community manager at Twitter were concentrated during the first day of the crisis, as May 1 collects 63% of all mentions. Just two first days cumulate almost all calls (95.7%) by public opinion to hear about Quick France position. We will come back later in this post about the corporate communications crisis management. The result here is that people require immediate explanations from management when a flagrant business scandal emerge.
Another typical actor appearing in a reputation crisis is the term of comparison, the epitome or ‘canonical’ example about this singular issue to be compared to. This is a rhetoric resouce used by media and also of course by social media users, as mean to set up the severity of the crisis or to help readers to easily explain what the problem is all about. We have seen in this blog for instance that when a political sex scandal emerge, the mentions to Bill Clinton (and Monica Lewinski) explode. Or, when there is a tsunami alert, references about 2004 tsunami goes to Aceh more than other places also affected by that tsunami.
Here the term of reference is Ratatouille. This talented mouse, as explained before in this post, is the star of a marvellous animated Pixar movie about gastronomy, hidden talent, passion for job and dreams, charms of Paris… but also about the lack of hygiene conditions in restaurants.
Empirical results show that the presence of Ratatouille in the Quick scandal storyline follows the same path and time distribution than all news about the scandal. This is clearly a Ratatouille scandal.
Depending of how massive and shocking this current crisis is, and how Quick France addresses and manage it, there is a substantial risk that new mice stories in restaurants will be not only Ratatouille cases, but also Quick-like cases.
This reputation crisis is what some authors call e-reputation crisis. I personally do not understand what e-reputation means, as what we consider, and what is there is the reputation of a corporation or a brand, and nothing else. Reputation is made by perceptions built up by facts, perceptions based in those facts, but also in prejudice, anecdotic evidence, personal experiences and media and social media portraying perceptions. This includes reputation components coming from this ‘e-’ framework.
Whatever we call it, we have some cases where brand reputation is disturbed in a positive or negative way by events mainly happening in the social media medium, like the one we are considering. Something happening in the real world (mice being in an inappropiate place for Quick reputation interests) is captured by a real world person with a smartphone, and from the smartphone is jumps almost immediately into the social media communication area. There it grows as scandalous fact known by other real world people and brand customers interconnected through the social media channel Twitter (and thereafter also Facebook and Youtube).
If the social media developed reputation crisis reaches viral status, it increases the chances of becoming an affaire relevant for public opinion. In that moment, the scandal becomes an attractive story of traditional media. A social media born reputation crisis may become a nice story for on-line and off-line newspapers when it reaches viral status precisely because the scandal has been enriched in its storyline by the fact that now this is something hot in the social media that is creating bold and outraged reactions against Quick France in Twitter community.
We have seen in other reputation crisis cases in this blog that when a social media controversy reaches the Trending Topic status (TT) it becomes almost automatically matter for news in the traditional media (see for instance the Loewe ad controversy or #HoyEsBankia housing eviction action).
This happened again in the Ratatouille Quick Paris case. The scandal was presented as news in leading newspapers in France as soon as by on-line news by May 2, 2012. You can check here some of the leading references.
- L’ÉGOUT, C’EST NOUS – Chez Quick, les souris dansent depuis longtemps, Le Monde, May 2, 2012
- Des souris dans un restaurant Quick, Le Figaro, May 2, 2012
- Souris chez Quick : Les clients écœurés, France Soir, May 3, 2012
- Quand les souris dansent chez Quick, Le Parisien, May 3, 2012
Of course, when the myriad of small social media criticism and crisis reach the viral status and the reach leading national newspapers, the status of the reputation crisis is automatically upgraded to major emergency. Of course also, many small social media crisis reach the critical viral status because of the passive and poor reaction by the affected companies and a poor social media crisis management. We will discuss later about the reaction by Quick, but you can guess that if we have chosen this case is probably because of the absence of proactive social media culture shown by Quick management to address this reputation crisis.
Whatever the responsibility of the poor action by Quick Community Manager or the actual probability to stop it by adequate measures to avoid it reaching the viral status, it eventually happen in this case, and the crisis become one of those surprising news in the newspapers that many people like to read in order to get shocked and react in consequence.
When a social media crisis is translated into traditional media news, the social media crisis is feed and strengthened. As online newspapers count with a wide audience, there are many readers that discover the existence of the scandal by the news. As explained, this kind of news are specially attractive by some newspapers, as the generate a lot of traffic and a high intensity of readers response. Some of them comment the news, and some other want to share with other their outrage. How? Sharing the news with their personal contacts and network in the social media. Many people republish the news as a personal Facebook entry or as Twitter message with a link to the online article.
The vicious circle of the virality is reinforced, as now many other people in the social media learn about the existence of mice in Quick restaurant because someone is sharing the news about it published in a leading newspapers. This external reference provides credibility to the event, and many new people get in contact with the serious hygiene problem that Quick has to address and fix.
We show you in the next figure the dynamics of the tweets containing links to news about the Quick Belleville problems. We find that there are no news during the first day of the crisis. All the scandal virality is nourished by pure social media sharing. By May 2 tweets with links to news enter into the storyline of the reputation crisis. We find that this first day concentrates 57% of all links to news. There are another 30% tweets with links to news the day after. Two days after, May 4, the number of shared news are still relevant, with 8.6% of al tweets.
If you compare the timeline of shared news with the other sources previously presented, it clearly shows that the presence of on-line news are a key factor for expanding in time the extent of the reputation crisis.
The structure of the components of a social media reputation crisis
We presented in the previous section one by one the main sources intervening in a social media crisis, to show their respective dynamics.
In this section we gather together all pieces in order to present you the structure and the evolutions of the components of a reputation crisis in the social media.
In the first figure we show all tweets by day, decomposed by the sources presented in the previous post. Actual data is not accurate as in some cases a single tweet can include more than one of the components in the list. Also, we measure here only new tweets, and we discard the vast amount of retweets (consider for instance that one of the tweets by @Clouzal received almost 1,200 RT).
The life duration of this reputation crisis in the social crisis is basically three days, with first two day being the most relevant ones in terms of impact. This means that impact and legacy of this crisis is done with information created and shared between May 1st and May 3rd. The relevance of new information arriving after May 3 is minimal. This is again valuable information concerning the timing of corporate responses to crisis originated in the social media.
Tweets with mentions to the source @Clouzal, sharing the disgusting pics and mentioning the cause of the crisis @Quick_France constitute the structure of the first day of the viral diffusion of the crisis. This means that the shared message is very close to the original source.
In the second day, the leading Twitter references are links to on-line articles about the crisis. In the third day these links are the vast majority of shared content about the crisis. This is an empirical evidence of the crucial power of traditional media in providing content for social media communication. Even in a crisis which is fully originated in the social media (a smartphone photo transformed into a Twitter pic), the sense of the story is soon ‘controlled’ by the traditional media, as Twitter users share with other people what traditional media explain about the crisis.
This was already a previous personal perception, but confirmed in this and other empirical tests: to me, social media will never kill traditional media. In the contrary, it is asked to play a much more crucial and influential role. But the figures we present related to this case tell us also that social media imposes new working standards to traditional media. Newspapers that reacted quickly to the social media crisis and published a news about the story by May 2 receive a much wider attention and diffusion that media that entered in the story just one day after. Fast reaction newspapers receive 79% of sharing links in Twitter versus 21% for newspapers writing about the story after May 2.
We can get a better view of the evolution of the structure of source components by day in the following figure, where we show the percentage weight of each source by day.
@Clouzal, the Twitter user launching and sharing the scandalous pics has his moment of glory in the first day of the crisis, with almost 50% of prevalence. His presence quickly diminishes in the following days.
Newspapers take control of the storyline of the crisis yet in the second day of the crisis, as they represent 54% of all content about Quick Belleville. Their share increase to 75% the day after.
Videos about other cases of mice in Quick Paris play a minor role in quantitative terms (never more than 7%), but their actual reputation impact is probably bigger. In some cases, these videos ‘re-discovered’ thanks to the crisis enter as part of the content included in on-line articles. As some online newspapers count with very large audiences, this is probably the main cause of the explosive increase of video views (remember that they climb to more than 150.00 views in a couple of days).
Influential newspapers in this social media crisis
We commented in the previous sections of this post that news article player a role in this genuine social media crisis. Interested by the viral impact of the mice image in Quick restaurant, they published news about this story. Right now all on-line versions of newspapers allow interaction with readers through comments or sharing the news. As explained, the possibility to publish a Twitter message that simply corresponds to the title of the article plus the link to its content has as a consequence that news amplify the impact of the crisis in the social media, as new people in Twitter learn about this issue thanks to this kind of messages.
Every newspaper and every journalist create their personal storyline based in the same fact: they all count as raw material with a photo with six mice in a Quick kitchen. Even if ell depict and describe the same event, perceptions arising from the reading of the news may differ substantially depending in the newspaper.
Newspaper play an active role in the conformation of public opinion and views in the social media. Even with an event that it is apparntly as ‘objective’ as a photo.
We present now which have been in this crisis the newspapers most shared in Twitter. This provides a measure of their influence in participating in the common script emerging from this social media crisis. We have already run a similar exercice of newspaper influence index in this blog, applied to the scandal of alleged corruption by a Spanish Royal family member, Iñaki Urdangarín.
According to our empirical results, leading French newspaper Le Monde is the most influential newspaper in this crisis, by far, as it controls a 39% share of all articles shared in Twitter. This is one of the newspapers pertaining to the fast reaction group, as the article went on-line by May 2.
Second most cited newspaper is 20 Minutes, with 15% share, followed by Le Parisien with 12.6%. We find in the list some pure on-line newspapers like Blog Jean Marc Morandini (2.8%), the French edition of HuffingtonPost (2.8%) or Video-Buzz.fr (2.6).
It can also be observed that there are some non French newspapers in the list like Le Matin from Switzerland or El Mundo and ABC from Spain. It is in fact through the international impact of this reputation crisis in Spain that I learnt about the existence of this corporate crisis.
Analysis of media reaction to Quick France reputation crisis
Some 50 news have been published about the problems faced by Quick France. More than 40 come from media in France. We have seen that there are some newspapers abroad that published the story, in Switerland, Spain and Portugal. News in newspapers are the traditional channel where corporate problems become reputation crisis. PR and brand communciation teams use to have well established protocols to react and manage communciation crisis with media impact.
Nowadays reputation crisis grow and develop both at in parallel in the media level and in the social media level. There is constant interaction between both levels. We have seen that in this case the crisis emerged at social media level, but made quickly surface at mass media level. This quite massive media coverage expands the reach of the viral crisis in the social media area.
While both levels are intrinsecally interconnected, it is probably the case that some corporate reputation teams take problems or critizism seriously as a reputation crisis only when it reaches the traditional media level. This case and many other cases show that this attitude is completely wrong and that all communciation measures that will follow will be meaningless or at least of limited efficacity in managing the crisis and restoring reputation accurately.
Before we analyse Quick communications management of this crisis, we present empirical results about the impact of the crisis at newspapers level. This new stage allow us for the application of specific tools of empirical reputation crisis analysis.
In this section we have selected 22 news about Quick Belleville scandal that have received a relevant number of visits and interactions. We show what can we learn about the brand reputation impact of this crisis by proceeding to a common analysis of all 22 articles.
The first variable that we analyse is to regroup the newspapers into three groups, according to the profile given to the seriousness of the scandal.
- Mild: they present the news by following the explanation given that the company, which considers that this is a common problem in restaurants in big cities like Paris.
- Mild-Severe: they present the position given by the company, that this is a common problem difficult to address, but the reflect some criticism to this point, showing for instance that this is not the first time that mice have been seen in this restaurant.
- Severe: the journalists presents the case as a serious hygiene problem. The newspapers strongly critizises the reaction provided by the company as being non valid excuses. In some cases, mention is also made to previous scandals at Quick affecting human health.
Of course, this classification is not fully objective, as it lays in my interpretation of the treatment and perception emerging from each different newspapers. Let’s take the results we propose as a big picture of how the crisis is treated by the media, and not something mathematicaly exact.
We find that 36% of news show a mild treatment of this crisis, thus Quick France appearing more like a victim than a responsible. Of course, this does not eliminate the shockin impact by readers learning that no less than six mice are living and eating in shared space with restaurant costumers.
41% of articles show criticism against Quick France, while an additional 23% show strong criticism and attack the brand quality standards of the company.
As we are using the on-line version of the newspapers, we have not monitored how many of them went also into the off-line edition. For all off-line versions of the news, Quick France like all companies count with media clipping services that translate each news into media impact in terms of average readers per newspaper.
In our case, on-line versions of the news are probably more relevant than off-line, as they include in many cases the direct access to the Youtube videos showing other disgusting cases of mice in Quick Belleville restaurant. This material is highly chocking and creates a call and sharing effect, that it cannot be reached in the paper version of it.
The good and the bad thing of on-line versions of news is that actual viewers is extremely volatile even within a newspaper, but there are a lot of records of actual impact of each news. Some newspapers provide information of total number of news, or at least if they reach the list of top read news. Unfortunately this is not a common practice, and this prevents us to use number of views as measure of media impact. But, fortunately, we count with indirect measures that are used by all newspapers in their on-line edition: measurement of reaction of readers. The information available in practically all cases are comments by readers, and reaction by sharing the content in the social media. We have seleted sharing in Facebook and Twitter.
In fact, we have already shown results about social media sharing in the previous section, by showing top newspapers by number of sharings in Twitter. Now we will use this information about Twitter, Facebook and comments to show the global media impact of the three media approaches to the seriousness of the crisis: mild, mild-severe and severe.
First figure refers to newspapers reaction by sharing the read news with personal network in Facebook. The ugly news have been upload as personal content to show and share with Facebook contacts in more than 13,000 cases! The two newspapers most widely shared are Le Parisien, with 5,700 FC shares, followed by Le Monde, with 3,600 shares.
We have colored newspapers following their attitude towards the crisis: yellow is midl, orange is mild-severe and red is severe. This means that news showing a mild image of the crisis have been more widely distributed than others. They appear in 53% of all Facebook shares, while they only represented 36% of all news. This is due to the massive impact of Le Parisien article. We find also that in the other extreme, news showing a severe judgement of what Quick France is doing are distributed more intensively than average. They represented 23% of all news but they reach 34% of all Facebook sharing. This also imply that news showing an ambibalent position are this time less shared than the other extreme positions.
Concerning sharing of Twitter messages, we do not present the figure, but just present their share: mild: 35%, mild-severe: 28%, severe: 37%.
Next step is presenting results about comments by readers of the shoking news, organized by type of treatment given by the newspaper. Writing a comment imply a much higher degree of engagement by readers and need to react after reading in this case something disgusting.
We find that in this case the share of total comments coming from newspapers presenting a mild version of the scandal sum 32% of all comments. This is slighly less than their share in terms of number of news. This is substantially lower than easy reaction by sharing through Facebook.
Mild-severe news produce 34% of all comments. This is again less than their share in terms of news, but more than the share of facebook sharing. Finally, commenting the news when their are presented as a severe crisis produce 34% of all comments. This rsult is in line with their share of Facebook posts and then is also much higher than their share in terms of news.
We find that in this case, the worst is presented by the media the image and role of the company in the scandal, the higher the commited participation through comments by enraged and angry readers.
All this suggest that even faced to a crisis based in very objective elements like the pics and the text of the response given by the company, media are probably able to modulate the extent and the final size of the reputation crisis depending on the wording and the approach followed to explain the ‘objective’ elements of the crisis.
News storyline about the scandal, depending on newspaper assesment of the severity of the issue
We continue the information of previous section concerning the different treatment given by media to the crisis by showing some key elements depicting the story.
The approach we follow now is to estimate the profile of each one of the three groups we have made concerning the main components of the crisis storyline. We want to identify if they are present in the same way between groups, as a way to identify sensitive issues used differently depending on how serious the hygiene crisis is perceived by each newspaper.
We show all the results with several figures, and we comment them alltogether.
Pic of mice (figure 1) are present in a vast majority of news (80%) and the percentage is lower in mild profile articles. We do not find relevant differences concerning the use of the sensitive video (figure 2). It appears in around 70% of cases in all categories.
There is a sbustantial difference in the way the news refer to the source of the crisis, Twitter user @Clouzal (figure 3), is much more present in severe oriented news. This is probably not due to the fact that this reference to the source makes the case more serious, but is reflects rather that news showing a more severe judgement develop the context of the story in a much detailed extent.
Another relevant difference in the storyline is the use in the news of bold reactions manifested by social media users (figure 4). A typical one is transforming the official brand slogan (‘Quick c’est le gout’, Quick it’s the flavor) into a negative one (‘Quick c’est l’égout’, Quick it’s crap). This rethoric tool (putting in others mouth what the journalist and the readers are thinking) is much widely used in news with a severe approach of this crisis.
We find another extremely sensitive issue where we find again a strong divergence in it’s use depending on the profile of the news. This is the mention in the news to past health scandals suffered by Quick (figure 5), as direct or indirect suggestion of the harming effects of having uncontrolled mice in a restaurants. It refers in this case to a dead suffered last year by a young man after eating a burger at Quick Avignon. It was proven that the source was e coli from Quick meat. This casualty received international media attention, as it happened in the midst of a terrible lethal e coli crisis in Germany. Including references to this terrible past affaire suffered by Quick clearly puts the present mice crisis in a very negative perspective. We find that only in 12% of news with a mild approach there is a reference to this case, while it jumps to 80% in news with a severe approach.
You can check here a media reference in English about this case of death of young Benjamin Orset after eating two contaminated burgers at Quick Avignon (Family to sue after boy dies from eating bad burgers, Radio France International, February 22, 2011)
Finally, we find that news with a severe perception of the crisis are associated to a higher commited reaction by readers, measured by comments per hundred of Facebook shares (figure 6). Of course, a most accurate measure would be share of comments by number of views, but we do not count with this information for all newspapers.
Gathering all findings referred to the structure of the news, we find that there is clearly a different choice of crucial components depending if global approach is mild or severe concerning the perceived seriousness of the crisis. There is no neutrality in explaining a rather objective event. This is of course not a discovery nor a new thing, but we have provided here some metrics to capture empirically the tools used by newspapers to build their biased approach to the crisis.
CRISIS RESPONSE BY QUICK FRANCE
Up to this point, we have shown in this post different metrics about the evolution and the extent of this reputation crisis. Now we turn the analysis to how Quick France managed this crisis.
First reaction was no reaction.
If you take a look again to the different charts that we have presented in this post, the crisis was already highly visible during its first day, May 1, 2012. The crisis entered into social media area soon after midnight. Early in the morning the diffusion of the shocking images moved away from @Clouzal’s inner circles and counted with all ingredients to become a viral crisis. As shown in the first figure of this blog entry, during the first day some 28% of all tweets were published. This is a visible and disturbing enough amount of angered messages calling for a reaction by the company at the source of the crisis, Quick France. This is was it happened indeed, as we have shown that during this day, official Twitter account received 63% of all ‘digital calls’ to provide an explanation to the awful restuarant pic.
There was no reaction at all from official Quick France sources during this day.
It may be argued by some (as discharge?) that May 1 is the Labor Day, and this was a public holiday. And this is true. But Quick France fast food restaurants are not closed on May 1 or in any other day of the year. Even if being a holiday, it is hard to imagine that all managers and representatives were sleeping during all the day. This would imply an even worse information about the company management standards: that there is nobody able to assume responsibilities and decisions to protect and preserve the company interests if the problem arise out the working hours.
The absence of reaction during a holiday may rather reflect that this crisis was not considered by the emergency team in place as a red or even orange alert deserving the activation of extraordinary measures implying that top management should be disturbed during their rest for an emergency corporate communication meeting. ‘We will discuss about this embarrassing issue tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, for sure’. In the meanwhile, Quick France has nothing to say about six mice in my restaurant.
This decision or rather this absence of decision suppose that all communication and the construction of the storyline is completely dominated by scandalized social media users. Time is crucial in viral crisis, and the rapidity in providing content to the story is essential if the affected company hopes to conduct or at least take part in the reputation crisis conversation.
We all know that in some cases, silence or no official reaction is the only available option by firms suffering from a reputation scandal. We have praised for instance that in the house eviction crisis suffered by Bankia when a singular case became a Twitter TT (#HoyEsBankia) the financial institution did not provide a press release at all, and bank official Twitter account was silent during the crisis. Bankia just stopped the judicial order to evict the migrant from his house. (see #HoyEsBankia case). We have also seen that a very strong answer can become damaging in the long term, as people are interested in knowing the scandal case not because they learn about the scandal, but because they want to see or watch the response given by the company. This is the problem we detected concerning the communications management of the food tampering crisis at KFC Malaysia (see KFC Malaysia case).
This is clearly not the case here. The hygiene scandal needed for an urgent explanation coming from the company. It did not arrive.
Cou cou le Community Manager, Where are you?
We have already shown above this new tweet by @Clouzal calling Quick France Community Manager (CM) for action. This was an amazed an surprised reaction from someone who did not find any reaction from a firm accused by the facts of a serious business misconduct. It reflected the perception that follows after a non response attitude: don’t you really care at all about your image and reputation?
One explanation for the silence is that the board did not consider it a serious enough crisis. The other one, or one factor that helps to explain the lack of quick reaction is a poor company social media culture.
Why did the CM from Quick France did not react to the massive calls for reaction?
Simply because that there was nobody behind @Quick_France to receive the alerts. And this is not due to the fact that May 1 was a public holiday. There is nobody behind @Quick_France.
If you visit the official Quick France Twitter account (https://twitter.com/#!/Quick_France), you will find the same surprise I had, showed in the caption I took, presented below.
You have it. Quick France in Twitter is just 11 tweets in all his social media story. They had 56 followers!
Of course, in the first moment, I thought this was a fake account or a secondary account. No hope. This is the main Twitter account of the group related with business in France, its by far main market.
Yes, Quick France is a newcomer in Twitter, as they just opened their account by the end of February 2012. This late arrival in Twitter is telling a lot about how Quick management cares about social media communication and branding strategy.
But once you are in, you are expected to play the basic rules of the channel. We don’t see them. You have all Quick activity in Twitter in a miserable page with eleven tweets. 7 of them were posted in the social media euphoria of the newborn, within the first week. Then just one more tweet in March. And finally just three tweets in April. Of course, no traces of the crisis and any other kind of communication within May. This is arguably not a tremendous Twitter corporate engagement.
Apparently, the company or the CM do not know that Twitter is a marvellous tool for communication with customers, potential new customers, critics and society in general. This means bidirectional relationship. How many people or companies Quick France is following? Zero. How many references to other Twitter users loving Quick France do they show? One, @MintInBox. How many messages from other Twitter users have been retweeted in their account? Zero.
With this framework, it was hopeless to receive any kind of reaction by @Quick_France CM. It is probable that corporate boards and managers considering that entering in the social media culture is a waste of time and resources, they also probably tend to consider Twitter users as potential enemies, and source of attacks to brand reputation. They probably forget that some Twitter users are also Quick France customers loving its fast food products. If Quick France customers call for explanations through Twitter and nothing happens, it is likely that upset customers become never again customers and show their discontent both for the scandal and for the lack of response to all their social media network. You can expect that actual customers react more proactively to this crisis than non Quick customers.
Look at this interesting tweet by @MicakelNogal, showing surprise by the fact that there is no links to social media in Quick official web page.
— Mickael Nogal (@MickaelNogal) abril 30, 2012
Quick France response to the reputation crisis: ‘c’est la vie!’
Something similar to a company response came at the end, almost two days after the pics were upload in Twitter and Facebook.
I say ‘something like’, because there is no trace at all of this response in any official document of the company. You will find nothing about this case in Quick ‘communiqués de presse’. This is a caption by May 6 2012. (Link to Quick Press Releases in French, Year 2012)
We have already shown that nothing is mentioned in the official Twitter account. We show below that the same occurs in the official Facebook site, as post by 18 April is followed by another one by May 4 with a promotion linked to France Presidential elections. (Quick France Facebook. Entry 4 May 2012)
We know that this is a legitimate communications crisis tactics, as far as the message you are sending to your customers and the media reach them. We praised for instance the subtle communication strategy followed by sponsor Saxo Bank after WADA announced a two years sanction for team leader star Alberto Contador for doping. Communication was made about the position of the financial institution, but the channel used was never one using the brand logo Saxo Bank (see Saxo Bank case).
Communication was made this time as a response provided by Facebook community manager, as a Facebook comment to people answering Quick France about the case. So, this was not a Facebook new post, but a comment that appeared in personal Facebook pages of people reaction to this scandal. This is why this text does not appear in the official Quick France Facebook page.
This is the capture provided by the main protagonist of this story, @Clouzal, as shown in his Twitter account.
— Clouzal (@Clouzal) mayo 2, 2012
Translation: Quick France regrets the sudden presence of rodents in the Quick restaurant in Belleville. This restaurant counts with a permanent contract with a pest control firm and is therefore subject to regular controls by professionals. An additional check was immediately asked by management. This type of pest is not restricted to fast-food restaurants but is a real problem for all large commercial businesses in the major towns of France.
This is enough for Quick France as the appropriate way to address the problem and to communicate to concerned customers and opinion.
The good thing of this communicate is that it does not allow for a lot of ambiguity concerning the sense of the message and the attitude taken by the company concerning the problem. Basically,
1. Yes, we have rodents in our restaurant.
2. This is a sudden, unexpected problem (‘présence inopinée’). We were not aware that we had mice in our Belleville restaurant. We don’t like Youtube, and that’s why we didn’t know that our costumers were filming awful images of happy mice in Belleville restaurant.
3. Yes, when we say that ‘this is a real problem for ALL large commercial business in large towns in France’ is that we are indirectly acknowledging that this is not an isolate problem at Belleville restaurant, but that we at Quick suffer from this hygiene problem in other restaurants of the chain.
4. Yes, we try to address the problem, but not to fix it. We have a pest control firm, and we have the mice. The later always win. We took a new control, and there was no traces of mice in Belleville restaurant. Are they gone? No, of course, the six happy mice are still there, and they are still hungry. We did just not found out them.
5. Yes, we assume that this is a lost battle. Mice are always there. They will be always there. You, the rodents and Quick, in perfect harmony.
6. This is not our problem. This is a general problem. We assume it. You have to assume it. This is part of Quick consumer experience.
7. By the way. We regret it.
This is what I read from this calculated response by Quick France, published some 48 hours after the problem emerged.
I this what stakeholders really expect from Quick France?
My content analysis of Quick France response to this important reputation crisis was not ironic. It was totally serious.
I was totally surprised when I learnt about this corporate reaction to a crisis. I was shocked.
A crisis, a corporate or a personal crisis tells a lot about the soul of persons and institutions. A bad crisis management may reflect simply a mistake by PR team, or7and it may rather be a revelator of poor corporate practices, strategies, culture and values.
Of course, analysing this case from Spain, where Quick does not have a relevant presence, and based only in the analysis of how this crisis has been managed, I cannot take conclusion about where the real corporate problems lay. This would require a more systematic reputation pest control analysis. But the pieces of evidence are not positive for a brand in quest of leadership and excellence.
Consider by contrast the reaction taken by FedEx. As we show in our FedEx case in this blog, this leading post delivery company suffered from a deep reputation crisis as a consequence of a Youtube video showing a FedEx worked throwing a very delicate computer screen over the fence. This video counts with more than 8 million visits. (See the FedEx case here)
It is clear that such a worker misbehaviour is an exception. It is true that this may happen and actually happen in FedEx competitors. (replace all by rodents and Quick).
This is what we recommended as a good response to be followed by FedEx, before they actually reacted:
This is Transparency Age. Social media magnifies little but disgusting mistakes. Waste of time if companies try to deny or justify them. Impossible to fight against the viral dissemination of this new source of brand reputation. Companies will have to decide if they are positive and thankful to these opportunities offered by the new channels providing information about customers feelings and complaints, and react introducing improved product and service standards. Really, this video is telling to FedEx management that something can be improved in terms of service delivering. This was a 20 seconds delivery, and we don’t know if FedEx job protocol rewards more quantity delivered than quality. If they understand this, Fedex cand improve long term quality service and customer satisfaction.
As for possible responses in this communication crisis, we feel, in line with our basic analysis, that only a message asking for pardon to all costumers plus a determination to improve delivery standards, training and control will be considered by the video viewers.
This is also the advice that fits as a good response for the Quick scandal case. You can see that this is not the way chosen by Quick France.
You can find in the same blog entry the response given by FedEx.
They are full in line with our own perceptions on how to address the reputation crisis.
We have a promised pending analysis about how this corporate response at FedEx was received, as we have the numbers. Even if we shown in a second post (Case FedEx 2) that the impact of the crisis was notable for FedEx, we know that the response mitigated the short term effects and its long term effects.
Our perception is that Quick France response will not help at all to restore trust in Quick France values and brand promises.
THINGS THAT I LEARNED FROM THIS CRISIS
1. Next time I visit Paris, my first choice will not probably be Chez Quick.
Except if I learn in between that as a company they have identified top quality in services and hygiene as one of the true brand values they strategically promote.
2. In year 2012, there are still some large corporations living in a pre-social media era.
I did find one of them. It is possible to survive as a brand without taking into account seriously social media. I imagine that some brand can even live comfortably as if social media world did not exist. But I really doubt that companies struggling for excellence can exist aside a powerful business connexion. There are managers from companies in some business sectors who consider that being in the social media does not add value and is a waste of time or connecting with wrong target audiences. But a leading brand, whatever its business sector is, has as commitment to take care at its best of costumers needs and perceptions. Simply, there are always some customers of any brand or corporation that are communicating in the social media. Some times they talk about their favorite brand, some times they have complaints about their favorite brand, and sometimes they want to talk and be contacted by their favorite brand. Social media succeeds in reaching all these goals. There is no leading brand that can ignore and be disconnected to what their customers are communicating in the social media. leading brands take part in this communication.
3. Twitter is a marvellous tool for companies loving the best standards in brand and corporate reputation management.
This is not new, as we have proclaimed our preferences and love for Twitter several other times in this blog. The open nature of this social media source plus the homogeneity and the space limitation for messaging (microblogging) create both a content that is extremely easy to understand and monitor, and direct access to all communications in the network. This combination of features, that cannot be found in other successful social media channels like Facebook, Youtube or Pinterest turns Twitter into a new attractive tool for measuring in real time communications about a brand in any corner of the world, or in your town. Using appropriate monitoring and metrics, Twitter can play a role of early alert platform of crisis, problems or unexpected reactions from costumers, public opinion and other stakeholders. Nothing like this was available for highly performing companies ten or five years ago. This is true even if Twitter is not (yet) strongly developed as a widely and popular social media. As this new tool exists, and it can perfectly work for tracking reputation crisis, my perception is that top firms are obliged to use Twitter nowadays as essential tool in any corporate reputation and crisis management scheme. Of course, Quick France is right now not included in this list of companies, and was not aware of the extent of the crisis, its growth and evolution into a viral crisis. My guess is that the message provided by the company by May 2 came probably not as a response to the growing criticism in the social media, but much more simply to calls from top newspapers who where preparing their article and wanted to know the position and reaction of the company before publishing it. Almost all news counted with the response provided by the company, and some of the early news were published just few hours after the text appeared as personal answer in Facebook.
4. Twitter is not a toy for unexperenced interns.
If a company understands that Twitter is not just a new way to show your products and services to customers, but that it plays in fact a relevant role for establishing true communication with costumers, managing this task is not a matter for the new graduated with no professional experience. Communicating with customers require to have a deep knowledge of what the company is and which are its core values. It requires loving the company and what it does. It requires also an expertise in both social media rules and in reputation risks to be able to capture emerging problems and issues. Detecting new problems in the early stage by someone with enough seniority in the firm allows to take early decisions and direct or indirect reactions that imply that the problem is addressed from the very first moment.
5. Just-in-time metrics are essential for running twitter as a real time detector of potential new crisis.
Expertise and experience of the Community Manager play an essential role for detecting problems in the social media affecting the firm. Here the accumulation of knowledge of both the social media interactions and the perception that people have about the company and competitors make that many problems are quickly identified by the CM, apparently by intuition. But intuition cannot be enough in many cases, especially if the social media reputation team works in large corporation and the company apply high standards of brand equity preservation. The CM team needs the support of software that provide in-time quantitative results about the state of the social media mood about the company. This program should identify the emergence of every relevant new epicentre of problems, like a seismograph. This program identifies for each new source if it is level 1,2 3 or 5 problem and its evolution in time. This program adapted to your needs exist for sure. If this program does not exist (I don’t believe it), it deserves to be created. I am sure that there are many technical solutions out there, as I am able to find and create this kind of live results for the topics, institutions and brands that I am interested in.
See for instance a list of tools recommended by Puromarketing:
Open Status Search (formerly Open Facebook Search)
6. Sometimes, your company is your worst enemy.
We all, individuals and coporations have some right to make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, apparently. But we have less rigth and reason to conceive strategies incorporing mistakes by design, that are just waiting the the appropirate conditions to activate and become a crisis, like virus.
In this sense, and just watching things from the outside, we can judge that choosing the brand slogan ‘Quick, nous c’est le goût’ is probably not the smartest marketing decision.
It is true that is is too easy to criticise thing afterwards. But it is also true that the connection ‘nous c’est le goût’ to ‘nous c’est l’égout’ is a quite direct one. Fast food industries are nor rewarded in reputational terms for quality of the products and the promotion of healthy eating patterns, whatever the actual facts are. Thus, knowing that many people dislike your brand values, it is strange to choose a slogan that enables a so easy mockery.
Below there is a caption from the video showing mice in Belleville restaurant. The author of the video establishes the easy connection with the official slogan. He/She eventually uses this modified slogan as title of the Youtube video. If you check the titles chosen by some newspapers, they also use this new slogan adapted to the crisis.
When your brand or corporate slogan is turned into derision, you have there another serious and durable reputation problem. If the reputation crisis spreads the new fake slogan to many customers, the old official slogan becomes a source of brand reputation troubles. If you launch new ads using the traditional slogan and when people watch it makes mentally the translation into the new sense given by the viral crisis, then your own ad is turning against your interests.
This problem may be a legacy of this poorly managed viral reputation crisis. But this problem in the future will exists also due in part to the choice of a extremely risky slogan.
The second example of problems that are created mainly by the own practices followed by the company and not due to external elements is the cause that allowed costumers to capture the mice in Quick Belleville restaurant, both in video and in photo. Do you know how they did to get the compromising pics that will create a short and long term negative effect in Quick France image and reputation?
Just because Quick Belleville restaurant has clean windows showing the restaurant backstage, and because lights are not switched off after opening hours.
This was explained by @Clouzal in one of his tweets. Here you have the proof from a caption of Youtube video.
The question is why Quick Belleville uses transparent windows showing from the street what’s happening in the back office, which is in fact hidden to customers inside the restaurant? Transparency! Transparency is a very nice brand value! Yes, but why do you need transparency there? I find three possible explanations: as a way to exert indirect control to Quick workers, as they know that people can watch them from the outside. Probably this kind of labor motivation strategy is not the most advanced one. Second, as an indirect security system, to prevent robbery. This would explain also why lights remain on during closing hours. Third explanation, just ‘nonchalance’, indolence. Maybe management has not even considered if it was wise or not to have transparent windows. Whatever the reasons behind this decision, if Quick Belleville had used translucent windows, there would not be pics, video and reputation scandal.