Note to Domino’s Pizza: News travels fast, especially when it’s bad

(This post was updated during April 15 as events evolved: scroll down to see additional commentary.)

A public relations disaster of potentially epic proportions is brewing for Domino’s Pizza following the antics of two employees and a video on YouTube.

You can read the gruesome details at Consumerist but, concisely, it happened over the Easter weekend and involves one employee doing disgusting things with the ingredients while making up pizzas, while the other employee records it all on a camcorder with commentary.

It’s fair to say that Domino’s acted swiftly once they’d been alerted by alarmed consumers, as the Consumerist reports make clear. The employees concerned – working for a Domino’s franchisee in North Carolina, USA – have been fired.

Yet I doubt that’s the conclusion of the matter unless Domino’s acts swiftly and publicly to address any perceptions that such behaviour happens in other Domino’s facilities and, thus, a Domino’s pizza is the last thing you’d ever want to buy, let alone eat. Head on over to Pizza Hut!

No one will care about franchises or corporate structures – all they’ll see is the Domino’s Pizza logo.

At stake is the company’s reputation as “a powerful global brand”: this is not just about the US. News travels, as the saying goes, and it’s doing it faster than ever.

I first heard this story yesterday afternoon in a tweet by Barbara Nixon which got me thinking, too: hasn’t anyone at Domino’s addressed this from a PR point of view (which they eventually did, as detailed by the Consumerist)? Later, I posted some thoughts in an Audioboo.

What struck me in particular was how much commentary suddenly appeared all over Twitter as more people became aware of the videos and commented their own tweets of disgust.

And just look at the viewing stats for that YouTube video I linked to earlier: as I write this post, it’s had 562,627 views in just two days.

An assessment by PaidContent makes a perfect point:

[…] It’s a testament to how social media can force major corporations to act much faster than they might otherwise in an effort to do damage control. From the “AmazonFail” mess the book retailer is trying to clean up now, to the Twitter firestorm that erupted last November around Motrin’s baby-carrier ads (via the NYT), consumers are turning to resources like Twitter, YouTube and blogs to hold companies accountable for their ad campaigns, unruly employees and other actions – and in record time.

Other commentary worth reading:

Related posts:

[Update @ 11:45am] I said news travels fast, and it certainly is doing that with this story.

I tweeted a bit earlier that views of the YouTube video I linked to have now exceeded 636,000. That’s over 74,000 since I wrote this post at about 8am this morning. I don’t know how YouTube updates its stats but that’s a huge increase in such a short time.

A little later, Craig McGill asked whether this story has hit the traditional media yet. I hadn’t seen much evidence of that. Now, though, I see that BBC News has reported it, so it now has hit the mainstream.

Interestingly, the BBC story on its news website links to Domino’s Pizza in the UK rather than the US parent. Nothing untoward in that; it just adds to my view that this event is a global one for Domino’s whether they see it that way themselves or not.

So what are they doing? I’ve seen one report, at yesterday, quoting Tim McIntyre, Domino’s Communications VP, saying that they don’t intend to issue any public statements:

He said the company decided not to issue a press release or post a statement online. After all, he said, the company can deal with tens of thousands of impressions, but a strong response from Domino’s would alert more consumers to the embarrassment.

Oh, I think it’s gone way past that concern now: this is a story that is rapidly escalating in its reach and, hence, exposure to thousands more people, all potentially with an opinion and the means to express it. Soon, it will be millions of people.

I’d post a statement online, Mr McIntyre. At least you’ll have an authoritative point of reference for people to link to: a chance to add your voice to the conversation, if not influence it.

[Update @ 1pm] About 10 minutes ago, I spotted a new page on the Domino’s corporate website – an apology.

The wording says:

Update to our Valued Customers

In the last 24 hours, videos of two of Domino’s Pizza employees appearing inappropriately within one of our franchise restaurants have been circulating online.

Since the videos first surfaced yesterday, the two workers have been identified, fired and the affected franchisee has filed a criminal complaint against them, and there are warrants for their arrest.

The opportunities and freedom of the internet is wonderful. But it also comes with the risk of anyone with a camera and an internet link to cause a lot of damage, as in this case, where a couple of individuals suddenly overshadow the hard work performed by the 125,000 men and women working for Domino’s across the nation and in 60 countries around the world.

We apologize for the actions of these individuals, and thank you for your continued support of Domino’s Pizza.

It would probably be churlish of me to critique it, given that it is a response, more or less what I suggested earlier. Yet is it enough? Doubtful. The story has now been picked up by the mainstream media, at least in the UK: not only by the BBC as I mentioned earlier but also Sky News and mass-circulation (online and offline) tabloids like The Sun.

Still, let’s see developments.

And, by the way, the video I’ve mentioned before now has over 690,000 views.

[Update @ 7:45pm] A look around the net shows that this story has certainly spread out into the mainstream during the course of today. It continues to get a lot of attention on Twitter as well.

Most dramatically perhaps is the growing numbers of people flocking to YouTube to watch the video I referenced before – 757,800 views as I write this update nearly 12 hours on from the original content I posted this morning.

That’s some growth in interest: over 195,000 view today alone. It total so far, that one video has attracted the attention of over three quarters of a million people in less than 3 days.

What should Domino’s Pizza do? Hmm, that’s a very good question, one that provided a focus for a bit of open-ended discussion on Twitter with Chip Griffin, CEO of CustomScoop (and someone I know pretty well).

I’d need to know quite a bit more about Domino’s before offering any specific suggestions on communication tactics, as I concluded in a follow-up Audioboo I posted a short while ago.

I wonder what the landscape for Domino’s will look like tomorrow.

[Update @ 9:30pm] Domino’s has now come to Twitter with @dpzinfo, described in the profile as the “Official corporate information page for Domino’s Pizza.”

Full marks to the unnamed person at Domino’s for diving in to this medium and engaging with people there. I’m not clear what Domino’s is trying to do with Twitter, though, as from what I can see so far, the Domino’s tweets are largely re-tweeting the positive tweets of others and re-tweets of others’ expressions of support.

No actual conversation happening here. Is that what they have in mind, though?

Early days; let’s see how it develops.

I just looked again at that YouTube video: the view count now stands at 930,390.

[Update April 16] I don’t plan to update this post further but write new posts as circumstances warrant. For instance, a new post today: Social media baptism for Domino’s Pizza.