A Week of Social Media: Good, Bad, and Ugly

This week, the reputations of companies, brands, and individuals have been tarnished, supported, enhanced, and immortalized. The public has contributed its voice through social media channels.

WHITNEY HOUSTON

Yesterday, family, friends, and celebrities gathered to say goodbye to singer, Whitney Houston. While acknowledging her vulnerabilities, the powerful eulogies paid tribute to Houston’s achievements and helped secure her place in history as one of the great voices of her time.

Ordinary fans gathered on Twitter to pay their respects, just as they had done a week earlier to express their grief over Houston’s tragic death. In fact, Houston related themes dominated the top ten Twitter trends for much of the past week.

APPLE

At the beginning of the week, Harris Interactive released the results of its 2012  Reputation Quotient Study. Apple ranked highest, confirming (perhaps, even enhancing) its reputation with the general public.

But, to some, this achievement was surprising. For several years, Apple has been fighting groundswell against the treatment of employees working in its supply chain. One New York Times article alone, “In China, Human Costs are Built into an iPad,” attracted 1,770 online comments condemning Apple’s human rights record.

Corporate social responsibility is only one of six categories in the survey. The financial performance of the company, success of the iPhone 4S, and the recent memory of the visionary leader, Steve Jobs, contributed to Apple’s overall first position.

The following day, the Twitter world was abuzz again.  Tim Cook, Apple CEO, finally, acknowledged the company’s human rights problem by announcing that the Fair Labor Association is assessing working conditions in its factories. In a further victory for activists, Foxconn Technology, an Apple manufacturer, announced pay rises for workers.

If Apple is to maintain second place in the social responsibility ranking, it needs to deliver on these promises. The company cannot ride on its innovative products and financial performance forever.The question is now clear, “Profit at what cost?” The world is watching.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM

Single Rose – by Thor

As a result of another social media outburst, the reputation of 1-800-Flowers.Com, Inc. took a nosedive this week. The company suggests it is rated number one amongst its competitors for customer satisfaction – I’m guessing not any longer!

1-880-Flowers.Com failed to deliver hundreds of orders on Valentine’s Day. Unhappy customers posted derogatory messages on Facebook or took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction. Soon, complete strangers were engaging in conversations with each other. The anger towards the company increased. Apologetic employees attempted to quell the Twitter outcry.

While we might applaud 1-800-Flowers.Com for monitoring the social media channels and for listening, responding, and apologizing to its customers on Twitter, communication cannot fix the problem. It can only attempt to limit reputational damage. Improving performance is key to restoring trust.

Time is limited. With Easter and Mother’s Day on the horizon, will dissatisfied customers (and the many others who read the angry Tweets) give the company another chance? Or will the newly formed Twitter group recruit more disgruntled followers?

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Protecting the world one thread at a time

Our interactions with others shape our reputations as individuals. Similarly, companies are judged by their behaviors and their interactions.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is one driver of reputation. We respond more favorably to companies that add value to society – companies that are employers, neighbors, or vendors of choice.

The current cold spell brings to mind a company that was founded on the premise of “giving back” to society and the environment. It encourages its customers to do the same.

The mission of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, is to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

In grade school we learn the meaning of the five  “W’s.” In its “Common Threads Initiative,” Patagonia introduces us to the five “R’s” – reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, and reimagine.

The company suggests that everything we make costs the planet more than it gives back. As consumers, we should only buy what we need – not an easy sell to a society that equates possessions with happiness!

Patagonia delivers a powerful message, but, more importantly, it also “walks the talk.” Last year, the company repaired 12,000 garments. Since 2005, it has recycled 45 tons of worn out clothing and turned 34 tons into new garments.

Patagonia donates one percent of its sales to grassroots environmental organizations to help preserve and restore the natural environment. It encourages (and pays for) employees to spend time working with these organizations.

But, Patagonia is not concerned only about the environment. It works hard to promote fair labor practices and ensure safe working conditions throughout its supply chain.

Perhaps the biggest affirmation of the company’s culture and values came last month. Patagonia became one of California’s first “benefit corporations.” Under this legal framework, shareholders can no longer demand that the company prioritize profits over social and environmental responsibility. Critics may mourn a loss of financial accountability, but the aging founder of the company, Yvon Chouinard, is assured that Patagonia can continue its mission in perpetuity – a mission to stop the destruction of our environment.

Will other companies follow Patagonia’s lead?

Welcome to CR Thoughts

I have watched and I have waited until, finally, I can wait no longer. A long-term assignment for a social media class has provided the shove I needed to launch myself into this new world – the blogosphere.

Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to share my thoughts on matters of corporate social responsibility and corporate reputation – to give praise when praise is due and to question when I think actions are questionable.