The other day I wrote about the Netflix announcement that they were having a price hike, which was followed by the mass outrage expressed by its customers on a variety of social media platforms.
I was surprised by the betrayal voiced in so many of the comments and posts- the customers had absolutely LOVED Netflix and were furious that they were now getting “gouged” for about $6 more per month. “How could you do this to me?” was a common sentiment expressed.
This blog entry isn’t about why Netflix increased the subscription fee, or whether it was wrong or right. Plenty of other blogs and articles are doing that. Rather, I’m interested in studying what a company does when they are faced with an angry public. What do you do to counter the negative publicity? Can you do anything at all? What would be most effective? And what works best in the social media age?
Netflix, so far, has done absolutely… nothing.
As of this writing, the last blog on their website (which announced the price hike) was from July 12th. Thousands of livid people commented on it. Netflix didn’t reply; in fact, they did little more than delete the exceptionally vulgar posts.
All is quiet on the Twitter front, too. No attempts have been made to respond to the outcry of last week, but there have since been a couple of Tweets to let people know they are working on some streaming problem.
I also checked out the Netflix Facebook page, which carried only the announcement, no rebuttal, but had over 77,000 THOUSAND comments about the price hike. (HOLY GAMOLEY!)
When I returned to school to take business classes, I had a nice public relations class in which we discussed company crises. Stuff like the Tylenol-cyanide poisoning in the early ’80s and various other situations. Chris Brown had just beaten up Rihanna, so we talked about that. I related a story how I was on the inside of a talent management firm when client Paris Hilton’s sex tape scandal exploded and watched how they handled the situation.
Tylenol took the pro-active route and did a massive recall. They got ahead of the story before the public could get too angry, and Tylenol saved face.
Paris Hilton, on the other hand, basically retreated, made no appearances or public statements for a while. In time, the scandal blew over and people talked about other stories.
Both strategies, though very different, ended up working well. Netflix appears to be taking the silent route. I suspect they know that everybody who has enjoyed their service knows there is no real substitute and therefore they are unlikely to lose much business. So they will treat the angry customer base as a toddler throwing a tantrum: let them scream their heads off and get it out of their system, eventually they’ll tire themselves out, it will be nap time, and the storm will blow over.
Perhaps this is going to be the template for dealing with negative social media publicity. When people can Tweet instantly about you and complain, and negative press can go viral, WAY faster than a company’s PR department can react to it, maybe this is all that can be done. A company is going to have an extremely hard time of being the first voice heard in viral negative publicity, and when they reply, they’re probably going to come across as defensive or looking guilty. So perhaps the best thing to do is… nothing.
I’m still curious to see what Netflix eventually does.
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