The Lesson of Heineken and the Dog Fighting
Executives tend to be cautious, even frightened by social media. The thinking is, when you put yourself out there, there is so much that could go wrong, is it worth it?
So one glance at the issue Heineken is trying to resolve only confirms their fears: social media is a dangerous game. Thus it should be minimized or avoided altogether, like any corporate liability.
Funny, I draw the opposite conclusion. Here’s why:
The incident started with pictures of tall Heineken banners in the background of a dog fight, in a country where dog fighting is legal exhibition. Someone… could be a random person, could be a competitor, spread the photo out on the internet and it went viral on social media, making Heineken look really bad.
So stop for a moment. In this scenario Heineken was not engaging social media. They had physical printed banners. Something nearly every company does. If you are a business leader and you want to use this story to react, start with ending all physical displays of your company’s brand. Yeah, I didn’t think you would.
Social media did help spread the image around, creating widespread moral outrage against Heineken. But that is a simple fact of the age we now live in. The image would have gone viral whether or not Heineken was socially engaged.
But then Heineken used the fact that it is socially engaged to set the record straight. They created a wordy-graphic (by definition an infographic has nearly no words) and set their loyal fans to spread it around. The graphic takes a slightly complicated situation and in a simple, easy to read, easy to understand way sets the record straight. And that graphic is going everywhere.
So my take on this? Being socially engaged is vital for damage control. If Heineken was taking a minimalist approach to social media they would have lacked the loyal base of fans who are spreading their correction graphic far and wide. My takeaway is that you cannot afford to not have a strong social media presence, even if you will never be as big a target as Heineken.
If you want to be reactive, the lesson here is to invest in your social equity before you need it most. But then, that would be proactive.