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By Michael Neubarth
Two dramatically different paths led the world's two leading pizza chains, Domino's and Pizza Hut, to establish their presence on Twitter. Moreover, the forces that caused these rival pizza purveyors to embrace Twitter, within days of one another, illustrates the impact social media is having on the business world.
For Domino's, it took a prank and PR calamity to push it into the realm of social media. It all began on April 13, 2009 when two Domino's Pizza employees in Conover, N.C. shot a video of themselves performing vulgar and unhygienic acts while preparing food in the franchise kitchen, then posted the video on YouTube. Within two days, the video was seen by more than a million YouTube viewers and generated more than 300,000 comments, according to Premier Social Media.
PR expert Neville Hobson, who followed the unfolding PR disaster hourly on his blog, noted: "It's astonishing growth in just one day; combined with all the general commentary and Twitter talk, I think that's one video you could definitely apply the word ' viral' to."
Although Domino's executives learned about the video on the same day it was posted, they decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down, Domino's spokesman Tim McIntyre told the New York Times in April. "What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations," he said.
Seeing that the crisis was escalating and threatening its business, Domino's finally decided to post a video of its president, Patrick Doyle, on YouTube. Doyle's video appeared on YouTube on April 15, two days after the scandal-provoking video had gone up. Doyle spoke well and his video received 650,000 views and about 7,000 comments, according to Premier Social Media.
Said Hobson on his blog: "This video is very good indeed, an appropriate first direct response (and means of responding), in my view, to the events of the past few days. Along with the new Twitter account someone at Domino's started yesterday, it shifts the initiative to the company and demonstrates that they are paying attention and are actively engaging to address all those concerns so many people have articulated online. It's a good beginning."
As Neville noted, Domino's had also created a Twitter account, @dpzinfo, to address the surge of commentary occurring on Twitter. "We realized that when many of the comments and questions in Twitter were, 'What is Domino's doing about it,'" McIntyre told the New York Times. "Well, we were doing and saying things, but they weren't being covered in Twitter."
The workers responsible for the prank were fired and McIntyre said the company was preparing a civil lawsuit against them, according to the Times. Indeed, the two employees -- Kristy Lynn Hammonds, 31, of Taylorsville and Michael Anthony Setzer, 32, of Conover -- were fired and charged with distributing prohibited foods, the same North Carolina statute that forbids any tampering with Halloween candy.
Bad for Business
Although Domino's did all it could to reassure customers, its reputation and sales took a hit in the immediate aftermath of the video. "Video Prank at Domino's Taints Brand" reported the New York Times: "In just a few days, Domino's reputation was damaged. The perception of its quality among consumers went from positive to negative since Monday, according to the research firm YouGov, which holds online surveys of about 1,000 consumers every day regarding hundreds of brands."
The Domino's experience "is a nightmare," said Paul Gallagher, managing director and a head of the U.S. crisis practice at public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, in the Times article. "It's the toughest situation for a company to face in terms of a digital crisis."
"We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea," said McIntyre in the report. "Even people who've been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino's, and that's not fair."