OK, Class, What’s the First Word in “Social Media?”

PizzaPapa John’s had some PR issues recently when an employee used a racial slur to describe a customer. This post is only peripherally about that. Instead, this post is mainly about yet another company that doesn’t understand the power of engaging your customers and still views marketing as only a way to push their own agenda.

Now, I freely admit to being a fan of Papa John’s. It may not be the world’s greatest pizza, but it’s convenient, affordable, and I like it.

A few evenings ago, though, several things transpired to make me less of a fan. First, their mobile website is annoyingly complicated. (I don’t think it always was.) I started to order in the hopes that the food would be there shortly after I returned home, but it was so complicated I gave up.

When I did get home, I went online and placed the order. It arrived on time and was hot and fresh. But they’d started something new (at least since the last time I ordered) with their chicken strips. Now, not only do you get a container with the sauce of your choice, but sauce is also dumped over them. I thought they might like to hear how consumers felt about this new offering, so I looked them up on Facebook.

Now, this is an organization with over 2 million fans, so you’d hope they have a pretty good handle on using Facebook. But not really; this is what I found:

  • They post fairly frequently and even make a few attempts to engage their followers by asking questions or setting up polls. The problem? Despite the fact that their posts fairly routinely get hundreds of responses, Papa John’s virtually never interacts with their customers beyond the initial post.
    So, you’ve convinced several million people to connect with you on Facebook, and then you completely ignore everything they have to say? Nice going, Papa John’s.
  • And there’s no avenue, as far as I can tell, for a customer to share an opinion, like I wanted to about their chicken strips. (I tried posting to their wall but it was immediately deleted.)
  • Perhaps most egregious of their social media fails, though, was not addressing fans who responded to their apology post for the racial slur incident. To their credit, Papa John’s did post an apology, which wasn’t a bad start. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t have been the end, and it was, on Facebook at least. While I didn’t read through all 979 comments to their apology, I scrolled through them and saw no responses whatsoever from Papa John’s. Not one. Not even to customers who were complaining about other issues.
    (A Papa John’s employee named Ashley – a self described “phone girl” who takes orders – did attempt to right the perception that all Papa John’s employees were racist. A valiant effort, but, frankly, not her job.)

A Social Media Intervention
I really want to report this flawed use of social media to Gary Vaynerchuk, so he goes on one of his infamous rants. Short of that, here’s my own, much less animated, rant:

Social media (e.g., Facebook) is about interacting with your customer base, not about pushing your message all the time. While Papa John’s has some great promotions and is actively using Facebook, they’re not really engaging. (Lest you think that Papa John’s just isn’t paying attention, that’s not the case either. They were so thoughtful as to thank Beth Ann & Jessica’s Helpful Savings Facebook Page for posting about them, so they’re not completely in the dark, just not responsive.)

Papa John’s could easily turn this around by recognizing that social media is about engagement. It’s not a commercial or an ad, and it’s not just a way for you to offer specials. Customers are increasingly expecting to get a response from organizations when they ask a question or make a comment online. In fact, a UK study found that 25% of social media users expect a response within an hour of posting a request for support. By ignoring their customers, Papa John’s is missing a huge opportunity to connect with them, which likely leads to angry former customers.

Regardless of whether you’re a small business or a large one, for profit or not, you need to adjust to the new world in which we live. Social media is here to stay, and you need to learn to use it effectively.