The beginning of 2011 has been exciting for the observer/actor that I am! The Internet is proving how powerful it is, and I would like to draw three useful lessons that brands could draw from this as well.
- The resignation of a German Minister: Karl Theodor von und zu Guttenberg, the Defence Minister, was accused of plagiarizing a large amount of material when writing his Law thesis. Using the help of the search facilities of the Net, users discovered that it related to 324 of a total of 393 pages. An interactive website "GuttenPlag Wiki" conducted the investigation. Dubbed "Baron zu Googleberg," the resigning Minister saw dozens of lawsuits for "breach of copyright" filed against him.
- The dismissal of a star designer: "Today, because of the particularly odious nature of the behaviour and comments made by John Galliano in a video released Monday, Christian Dior has decided to suspend him and a dismissal procedure has been initiated against him". John Galliano was therefore fired by Dior following the publication of a video shot on a cell-phone by The Sun ... and posted on its website by the British tabloid.
- A Tweet from a customer: Normand Boulanger, Canadian journalist (read the story on Rue89), waited interminably to be served at a Nespresso boutique in Montreal. After waiting for 30 minutes, he sent a Tweet to Nespresso in the U.S.:
"The store manager came down about twenty minutes later and asked me what happened. So I told him my story. The server then came up to me and said, "you tweeted that you were badly served". I replied, "Yes". He said that Nespresso Switzerland had called and that he risked losing his job because they are very strict about the service". He had sent his Tweet to Nespresso in the U.S. - and Nespresso Switzerland had telephoned the boutique!
Lesson N°1: Important people (and brands belong to this category) are constantly under the public eye. Whenever a question arises and whenever an "out-of-the-ordinary" event occurs, the Internet mobilizes itself: each small compromise, omission, error, is relayed around the world. Of course, plagiarism is universal - and for years it was very difficult to prove. Today the Internet has become an instrument at the service of accountability: we are responsible for our actions, and our shortcomings are immediately identifiable.
Lesson N°2: We are entering the Age of Responsibility. Individuals as well as brands need to have ethical attitudes, to return to their values, to make them meaningful ...
Lesson N°3: Ground reality - in this case the boutique, because of its irreducible human dimension, falls far short of the ideal the brand strives for. The contrast between the rapid flow of information via social media and slow communication on the terrain results in a potentially explosive situation: Brands will soon have to address the question of bringing the two into line.