Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Will Pizza Hut's twintern solve image problems, or contribute to them?

The story, as reported in the New York Times, sounds intriguing. Pizza Hut is employing "twinterns" for the summer to not only report on Pizza Hut activities via Twitter (oh no! a sponsored tweet!), but to serve as a line of defense should some crisis (such as the Domino's crisis) arise.

“Realistically, because there are these tools out in the marketplace, and they have a multiplier effect, to have us looking and monitoring this in a more dedicated fashion makes sense for us,” [marcom VP] Mr. [Bob] Kraut said. “Once there are a lot of people using any form of media, large advertisers such as Pizza Hut gravitate towards it.”

Mitch Wagner shared this CNET item:

[H]ow can one not admire rival restaurant chain Pizza Hut? Unbowed and uncowed by the social media difficulties Domino's experienced with their booger video, Pizza Hut is looking for a Twittering intern.

Yes, someone who can take those 140 characters and turn them into a positive pizza life force.

Frank Reed (H/T Mickey Mellen) has a question:

[F]irst who is researching their pizza in social media circles and what influence can social media have on that choice? Also, even if you spend way too much time in 140 character land (or any social media for that matter) just how much are you willing to hear from Pizza Hut?

But I have a more basic question. Now I'll grant that all of these stories are relatively short ones that don't delve into a lot of detail, and I'll also grant that Pizza Hut has some corporate secrets that they don't want to share with their rivals. But I have a question: how will Pizza Hut manage the twintern output so that it is consistent with the corporate message?

People always think of a company as a single company, with a single voice. But that is patently untrue, at least in Western society. In truth, a company consists of tens, or hundreds, or thousands, or millions of people, each of whom has their own voice. If you're lucky, you can get all the voices to say the same thing.

I promised that I'd tell this story some time ago, but never got around to it. I know a person with a disability, and this person requires special accommodations when visiting a major theme park located in Anaheim, California. For several years, this person would go to a building in the "Main Street" area of said park and ask for a special pass. The park employee would look up the details in the computer system and issue the pass.

Well, the person went to the park a few weeks ago to follow the same procedure, and the park employee that she encountered informed the person that (a) there was a better alternative to the special pass that the person had been getting for the past several years, (b) there was no such record in the computer system, and (c) no one at the park would ever put any such record in the computer system.

Item (a) was actually really really good news, but the whole experience was soured because of items (b) and (c), which basically stated that the service that the person had been receiving for the last several years didn't happen.

To top things off, the person returned to the park on another day. The park employee on duty that day confirmed item (a) - oh, and by the way, the employee found the record in the system that the previous employee swore was not there.

So you can see how two different representatives of the same company - a company that is noted for its superior customer service - could convey two different messages.

So, what does this have to do with Pizza Hut? Namely, this - when the twintern or twinterns get hired, some training is going to have to go on. There will be a need for the twintern(s) to respond quickly if something adverse happens, and the correct message will have to be tweeted.

Is Pizza Hut prepared to do this? We don't know. In the best case, they are. In the worst case, someone has decided that a Twitter presence would be really cool, but hasn't thought through the ramifications of how the Twitter account needs to be integrated with Pizza Hut's corporate message.

Actually, that's not the worst case. The worst case would be if Pizza Hut hired Michael Setzer and Kristy Hammonds as the twinterns. If that happened, then no amount of training could guard against a catastrophe.

P.S. If you read my previous post in which I said that I was going to tell my Disney story, you'll recall that I said:

I've been thinking about Disney lately - especially about a personal link between Disney behavior and Amazon behavior, but I still have to write that post.

So what's the link between Disney behavior and Amazon behavior? Just this - some of those that objected to the mixed messages that Amazon issued over that fateful weekend were arguing that Amazon should have had a consistent message. They're right, but the fact that a corporation issued three (or was it four?) different messages over the course of the controversy is not surprising. In fact, when you remember that Amazon consists of a bunch of different people, and that they were mostly home for the weekend, the fact that uncoordinated messages came out is entirely understandable. Let's hope that Amazon - and Pizza Hut - take the necessary steps to ensure that thousands of people are singing approximately the same tune.
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