Domino’s Wake Up Call: A Lesson for the Social Media Age

Last week, a video of two Domino’s Pizza employees allegedly tampering with a customer’s food hit the Internet prompting a social media uproar and ultimately forced a response by the suits at Domino’s.

In case you haven’t seen the video, I shall describe: One disgruntled employee, Kristy, films herself and her colleague, Michael, as they prepare a pair of sandwiches. We see Michael shove shredded mozzarella up his nose, sneeze on the banana peppers, and, uh, pass gas on the salami, all while making disparaging comments about Domino’s. Most shockingly, we learn that Kristy spends her shifts reading an autobiography called sTORI Telling. Google it; you’ll smile.

Yeah, it’s a little gross. But when I eat out or order in, I kind of assume a small bout of horseplay with my food. My therapist says it’s a defense mechanism. For me, the real surprise is that the culprits had the wherewithal to upload their little film project for the world to see, and the surprisingly savvy response by Domino’s president, Patrick Doyle.

Mr. Doyle’s reaction—firing the culprits, having them arrested (!!!), and then issuing a mea culpa on YouTube two days later— offers a few lessons we can learn.

First, in a world where everything that happens is a click away from YouTube, we now must take responsibility for all parts of our brand—not just the parts that were painstakingly crafted in big catered meetings. You know the unspeakable thing your twerpy employee did in your sharp uniform that subsequently ended up on YouTube? That’s your pile of fun, now.

Second, there’s no difference between a grainy video on the web and an investigative report on the evening news. Today, the former usually turns into the latter anyway. You can’t treat them differently anymore because your audience doesn’t think of them differently.

Third, 48 hours—which is how long it took Domino’s to respond—is like a fortnight in Internet hours, and perhaps the only misstep Domino’s made in dealing with the matter. It’s called “viral” for a reason, and it becomes more contagious the longer you leave it untreated. Within two days, the big guys (MSM) will catch it, just like when mad cow disease jumped from bovines to humans. You’d expect a swifter reaction from the company that promised us delicious meals in 30 minutes or less.

Finally, as you relinquish complete control over your brand, the best offense you can have is a good defense. Domino’s got it right—an equal and opposite reaction. It was harsh when they fired Kristy and Michael, but it was merciless and shocking when they had them arrested. And they apologized to their offended audience using the same medium that broke the offense, YouTube.

So what’s your action plan when an impersonator turns all of Twitter against you? Or a disgruntled employee finds that ubiquitous “upload” button? Or when Lohan blogs about a terrible experience she had with your product? Are you prepared to hit the “upload” button?