brand strategy lessons from zappos cyberattack

Online retailer Zappos has been attacked via one of their servers in Kentucky. (yes, we have servers and electricity in Ky.)

Anyone who has spent any amount of time following me or listening to me speak knows I love to use Zappos as an example of great customer service. I even used them as a case study in Brand Zeitgeist. And once again, they are showing some smart reactions to a bad situation. Just a few important points to learn from this event:

Cyber attacks are a reality. If you have sensitive customer information in digital format, it’s not a matter of “if” this will happen to your organization, but “when”. Do as much as you can to prevent such attacks, but also have a plan ready of how you will respond when it does happen.

Communication is important. The knee-jerk reaction for most after an event like this would be to communicate with customers … which obviously is important. But a more important first step is internal communication. Customers will ask your employees questions. Employees need to know how to respond to those questions. CEO Tony Hsieh sent out an email to employees prior to the customer email going out.

They’ve gone to emergency mode by taking the call center offline and just using email as a single point of communication. They have pressed each employee into service as a customer service rep during this crisis. Most companies couldn’t dream of doing this. But, because of the unique culture at Zappos, even the janitors know how to respond to customers.

The social media lesson is that, even though they’re focusing on email, they are actually responding to each individual post on their Facebook wall and each tweet on Twitter.

Today, there are only the quick and the dead. Zappos didn’t have numerous meetings to only post a weak response a few days after the event. They worked quickly and decisively by resetting all passwords and initiating the first point of communication about the problem with customers. The first storyteller frames the narrative.

Well built brands can take a hit and recover. Much of what they’re doing with this reaction couldn’t be done if they had not spent the last several years creating a great corporate culture which bled through to a well-developed brand strategy. This is probably the most important lesson for brands to learn. You need to build your boat before you get to the water.

UPDATE: They’re even responding to the postive feedback:

barbers don’t cut their own hair

A quick follow up thought to my post last week about a PR firm’s debacle

  • Barbers don’t cut their own hair.
  • The cobbler’s children have no shoes.
  • A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
  • And marketers do a poor job of marketing themselves. In fact, they stink at it.

Your ad, PR, or marketing firm should develop a reciprocal agreement with another similar sized shop that is not a local competitor.

The immediate gain could be a mutual sounding board and critic of current client outreach programs. Each PR firm, ad agency, or marketing shop could even create self-promotional content for the other one. This content would be fresh and exciting even for employees since they wouldn’t have gotten tired of it when they created it. It’s like having someone else make a sandwich for you. It’s better.

But the real reason you should create this reciprocal agreement today is for your impending disaster.

A smart marketer would never suggest that a client handle their own crisis communication. But marketers are more than willing to dig deeper holes for themselves.

Set up an agreement and plan that lets the other agency take over your corporate communications when you hit the panic button. Maybe even hold a social media fire drill.

Your crisis partner will have an objective view because when the crisis hits you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

learning as you go

I would venture to say there are very few people who would skydive, ride a bull, wrestle alligators, or climb one of the Seven Summits without experience or at least after watching a very good orientation video.

And yet companies are rolling up their pants legs and wading out into the shark-infested waters of social media without a clue. They’re letting the interns and other untrained personnel control the messaging to some of their most important contacts and setting up a social media disaster.

Social media is currently biting Nestle on the Nestle facebook page.

Protesters are taking to the Nestle page to voice opposition about their alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. That’s trouble, but a prudent social media manager could handle it (like the way Southwest handled the Kevin Smith incident). Instead, the admin(s) of the Nestle page went on the offensive responding to fans in a derisive and aggressive tone. This is not breaking a social media rule. It’s destruction of basic PR 101. The company should never argue with someone in public (and for all practical purposes, it was the COMPANY not the admin making the comments.)

Overall, this is a great look at how companies should think about their online reputation management mechanics and the need to plan for an online crisis response in the same way you’d plan for a traditional crisis.

My favorite thing about the Nestle incident is that on Friday the admin(s) posted

“Social media: as you can see we’re learning as we go. Thanks for the comments.”

This is true for any brand. Despite what the social media snake-oil salesmen say, there is no one who actually has any real experience in social media.

What companies should have experience in is basic customer service, public relations, advertising, etc and apply those lessons learned in old media to the new model. And if you’re going to jump in the deep end of the pool, you’d better know how to swim and expect to get wet.