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Rogue employee at Pizza Hut creates plenty of bad press February 21, 2014

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A regional manager of several West Virginia Pizza Hut franchises created some pretty bad press for his company recently, after being spotted in a surveillance video urinating in a sink in the food prep area. The video leaked in February and went viral quickly. The employee was seen using a computer before stepping up to the sink behind him and relieving himself. He turned on the faucet briefly, presumably to “flush.” It took little time for the manager to be fired, and Pizza Hut released the following statement:

“Pizza Hut has zero tolerance for violations of our operating standards, and the local owner of the restaurant took immediate action and terminated the employee involved. While the isolated incident occurred during non-business hours and did not involve any food tampering, we follow strict safety and handling procedures and the restaurant has since been closed. We apologize to our customers of Kermit, West Virginia and those in our system who have been let down by this situation.”

Rogue employees like the manager in this incident aren’t all that unusual, and they pose serious dangers for big business. A Burger King employee from Cleveland created similar news stories in 2012 after posting photos of himself standing in buckets of lettuce.  Another Burger King employee was caught bathing in his restaurant’s sink in 2008. Domino’s Pizza was also caught in an embarrassing episode in 2009, after a few employees at one franchise posted video of themselves putting cheese in their nose and rubbing sandwiches on their private parts.

For more on the latest episode involving Pizza Hut, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Are companies to blame for the actions of their rogue employees?

2.  Was Pizza Hut’s response to the latest story of a rogue employee sufficient in repairing its image? Why, or why not?

3.  How has the internet era (especially after the development of social media and modern mobile technology) exacerbated the problem of rogue employees?

The flight from hell: Epic PR fail by PR expert December 23, 2013

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Justine Sacco became widely known almost overnight. Undoubtedly, she wishes things worked out differently. Sacco was a PR executive for media company IAC, which manages websites for The Daily Beast, About.com, CollegeHumor, and Match.com. It’s surprising that a PR expert could be so foolish. Before boarding a flight from London to Cape Town in December 2013, Sacco wrote on her Twitter feed, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She then boarded. On a flight without internet or phone access. The flight was long. Just enough time for a scandal to explode.

Sacco’s tweet quickly went viral. Parody accounts were set up on Twitter and Facebook, and hashtags related to her dumb tweet were more popular than almost anything else on social media in that 24 hour span. Social media users scrounged through her previous statements to find other gems. And even though she had just hundreds of followers when she boarded, she had thousands when she landed. And by the time she did land, Sacco found that IAC had distanced itself from her, she was looking at unemployment, and hated by millions of people who learned about her through a shared tweet.

Sacco quickly deleted her social media accounts, and eventually released an apology claiming that she was deeply ashamed. Nevertheless, her incident has become yet another case study on the importance of avoiding shameful behavior on social media. Whatever is entered online, assume that the world can and maybe even will read it!

For a detailed hour by hour account of Sacco’s social media scandal, see the following article from Buzzfeed.com: CLICK HERE.

For more on this story, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How does an individual’s personal use of social media influence their public and work life?

2.  What are some basic guidelines for using social media?

3.  Should employers have the right to terminate employees who create controversy in private social media accounts? Why, or why not?

Social media misconduct could cause Kansas professors to lose jobs December 23, 2013

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The Kansas Board of Regents announced in December a new policy for addressing perceived misconduct on social media. State universities now have the right to fire professors if they use social media to incite violence, post confidential information about students, or engage in online acts that are “contrary to the best interests of the university.” In other words, interpreted in one way, this new rule could hurt professors or staff members who use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram , or anything else to express controversial political beliefs, criticism of the school, or criticism of other faculty.

According to Erik Voeten of The Washington Post, the rule goes a little too far. There are too many inherent risks in using social media, which is now encouraged on campuses that try to engage more with students, and the policy doesn’t account for that. As Voeten wrote:

“Social media usage is mistake prone.  You hit publish and whatever happens to be on your mind is there for the world to see.  There is not much time to edit, sleep on it, review copy-edited versions of your text, and so on.  Anyone who blogs or tweets regularly will say things he or she later regrets or wished were worded just a bit differently.”

Unsurprisingly, the new rule is being widely panned. As an editorial for the Kansas City Star summarized, “It was devised with no input from faculty members, and it shows. In giving university leaders the authority to discipline or terminate even tenured professors for vague, subjective offenses, the regents have set up a chilling environment that runs contrary to the ideal of academic.” In other words, what would be bad for the university’s image could be interpreted so broadly to fire just about anyone. Pretty tragic for fields that require critical thinking about some of society’s most controversial subjects.

For more on the original incident that sparked the perceived need for this policy, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How might professors use social media inappropriately in a way that hurts a university’s image?

2.  Is the new Kansas rule a violation of free speech? Why, or why not?

3.  How could the new Kansas rule lead to a possible violation of free speech in the future?

Werner Herzog PSA makes most vivid appeal yet on texting-and-driving August 24, 2013

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There is a new public service announcement spreading on the internet. It’s horribly depressing. It may be amazingly effective. Documentary film maker Werner Herzog (you may remember him as the genius behind Grizzly Man) decided to take a stab at convincing drivers to put down their phones. Because he felt that a 30 second ad wouldn’t be enough for the narratives he wanted to share, he was granted 35 minutes, sponsored by AT&T, Verizon, Spring, and T-Mobile. Werner follows four stories of victims of accidents involving texting, and even the drivers who killed others while paying too much attention to their phones. As Gabriel Beltrone of Ad Week wrote:

“It may be cynical to say so, but a key part of what makes the documentary so effective is that it’s not just playing to the pity, or morality, of the audience. On some level, it’s appealing to selfishness. The victims may be relatable, but so are the drivers—they’re just regular guys, like you—the film actually is appealing to the viewer’s ego. Hitting someone won’t just ruin their lives and the lives of their loved ones. It will ruin yours.”

The PSA has been a huge success so far, garnering more than 1.75 million views on YouTube in just a few weeks. With social media bouncing the video all over the  internet, there’s a plan to show a 12 minute version of the PSA in over 40,000 high schools.

To see the longer version of the PSA, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Is there really a lack of awareness about the dangers of texting and driving?

2.  Assuming that so many people know that texting and driving is dangerous, why is there still such a widespread problem?

3.  How does the Werner Herzog PSA persuade audiences to commit to leaving a phone alone while behind the wheel?

Coming soon? Facebook video ads to test users August 16, 2013

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Facebook is exploring the idea of incorporating video ads into its service, and is starting to tout its potential to marketers. The social networking site reports that almost 100 million people use the service during prime time hours, as much as a typical audience for the Super Bowl. As Facebook sees it, here’s how the advertising will work. As described by Aaron Pressman of Yahoo News, users will see up to three mandatory 15 second ads per day, and advertisers will be charged up to $2.5 million per day (which will be more expensive per second than most television spots). Users may not be excited, though, and could protest. As Pressman stated, “People are flocking to social networks to see cute pictures and silly posts from friends and family, not to sit through ads for pickup trucks, allergy pills and fast food.” What could end up happening is yet another “Quit Facebook Day,” which has occasionally been successful in forcing the company to reconsider its new policies.

The recent news about Facebook’s latest move highlights an ongoing battle for advertising dollars normally spent on television. As television audiences become more fragmented, new platforms may offer a more attractive option of reaching target groups. With television in the United States receiving the largest share of money spent on advertising – 39 percent according to some reports – Facebook is likely to go all in despite the response from what will likely be a very vocal minority of its users.

For more on this story, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Will Facebook users tolerate mandatory video ads? Could Facebook’s plan result in a major loss of users?

2.  How could Facebook’s new video ads challenge the television industry? How might a loss in profits, resulting from a loss in ad revenue, impact television as we know it? In other words, is television facing a similar crisis that newspapers faced when ads went online?

3.  How does Facebook benefit from video ads? How might this alter the company’s future?

Hillary follows your lead: The power of Twitter June 12, 2013

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You’ve probably got a Twitter account by now. Now, so does Hillary Clinton. The former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, sent her first tweet in mid-June 2013. She gained almost 100,000 followers in a few hours, and sparked several celebrations on various social media platforms. According to many political analysts, the move is a pretty clear sign that Clinton is considering a run for president in 2016. She tapped into the themes of the same fan base that made the “Texts from Hillary” blog so popular, and already has more followers than other rumored candidates in 2016. More importantly, Clinton listing her future plans as “TBD” in her Twitter profile is an obvious effort to stoke public discussion about her possible candidacy.

For more on reactions to Clinton joining Twitter, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why is Twitter such a powerful platform for public figures?

2.  How might Clinton’s tweets play into setting up a future campaign for president?

3.  Why do you think political figures flock to some social media platforms over others?

Cheerios’ “Just Checking” ad proves post-racialism is simply fantasy June 12, 2013

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Occasionally, you might hear claims that America’s racial struggles are well behind us. Every now and then, though, the public is shocked by unexpected racism – nowadays, commonly on the internet forums. Cheerios became the target of such hate recently, after airing a new ad called “Just Checking.” The ad features a little girl (who is black) asking her mother (who is white) about the health effects of eating Cheerios. When her mother says that they are indeed good for one’s heart, the daughter’s father (who is black) wakes up from a nap with Cheerios covering his chest. The YouTube video was surprisingly filled with offensive comments about the interracial family, and users often referred to Nazis and genocide. Cheerios turned off the comments function on the video, and released a statement saying that it stood behind the ad.

Obviously, the ad also received positive reviews. Editor Stephen Henderson of The Detroit Free Press wrote that while the ad’s use of an inter-racial family should not be a big deal, his own personal reaction was along the same vein. He wrote:

“So the first time I saw the Cheerios ad, I was, in fact, unsure whether I’d seen it correctly. Really? Was that a white mom with a black dad, and a daughter whose cork-screwed curls looked exactly like my daughter’s? Once I realized it was, I thought: Good for them. Cultural milestone, check. And great that it was Cheerios, the first finger food I saw my kids’ stubby little hands groping for, and still their most common snack.”

Indeed, marketing experts agree that many viewers had a positive reaction. From May 28 to June 5, brand exposure for Cheerios across the internet was up 77 percent compared to the previous week. Cheerios was bold, confronted, and ultimately wildly successful.

To see the ad itself, and media reactions to the racist backlash online, watch the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What does it mean when someone says we live in a “post-racial” society? How does the debacle surrounding the Cheerios ad disprove that claim?

2.  How does the Cheerios “Just Checking” ad also confirm that mass media influences societal norms?

3.  How does the Cheerios “Just Checking” ad highlight the problems with social media in contemporary society?

Kitchen Nightmares episode highlights ABCs of social media use for small businesses May 20, 2013

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You’ve probably heard by now that celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares” show visited the worst business he has encountered in over 100 shows. The internet was abuzz after the episode aired in May. Ramsay met with the owners and staff at Amy’s Baking Company, a Scottsdale, Arizona, restaurant with a history of bad reviews. The owners, Samy and Amy, eventually revealed themselves as intolerant to criticism, unwilling to change, and hostile even to their own customers. After several confrontations with the participants in his show, Ramsay quit, saying it was the first time he had ever done so.

What ensued after the episode was a lot of shock all over the internet. Many viewers took to Amy’s Baking Company’s social media outlets to express their disapproval of how they run their business – especially how they treat their employees. What happened thereafter was even more shocking. Samy and Amy from Amy’s Baking Company shot back against many of the negative comments with the same vitriol they exhibited in “Kitchen Nightmares.” As The Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri commented, the social media response by ABC was a lesson on “How to Lose an Argument on the Internet,” including the following actions:

  • “TYPE IN ALL CAPS.
  • Explain that God is on your side.
  • Call the other person a rude four-letter, three-letter, five-letter, six-letter, 10-letter or 12-letter name.
  • Explain that you are right because the other person is an idiot, while misspelling something.
  • Use erratic punctuation or grammar while calling the other person stupid — also while typing in all caps.
  • Describe your cats as “little boys in cat bodies” or “little people in cat suits” or “children, but actually cats, but really children” or “non-human children.”
  • Refuse to stop arguing.
  • When the backlash starts, insist that you were hacked.

Overall, the lesson learned from Amy’s Baking Company has more to do with how small businesses should use social media, especially in the midst of an image crisis. As Kelly Clay from Forbes.com argued, businesses should avoid replying to all critics, avoid engaging with trolls, avoid insulting naysayers, and walk away when such criticism gets overwhelming )at least for a while).

To see the embarrassing episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” starring Amy’s Baking Company, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How might “Kitchen Nightmares” have ruined Amy’s Baking Company’s brand?

2.  What mistakes did Samy and Amy make in their social media responses to critics?

3.  Can Amy’s Baking Company rebound from such an embarrassing episode?

Chipotle and the “adless” brand March 11, 2013

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Big business is almost synonymous with advertising. No so at Chipotle. The company spends just about $6 million per year in national advertising, compared to the $650 spent by McDonald’s and the “meager” $100 spent by Arby’s. According to Jim Edwards from Business Insider, Chipotle has adopted more of a form of “word-of-mouth publicity,” and considers advertising a “risk factor” to its business. In an attempt to avoid ad spending, Chipotle has even managed to do quite well, with sales at $2.3 billion in 2012, a 23 percent increase compared to the year before.

Chipotle hasn’t forgone all advertising, though. The company simply regards traditional marketing irrelevant to its brand. While it purchased time for one ad in 2012, the way the ad came to be shows that Chipotle is a different company. The “Back to the Start” ad began in summer 2011 as a two minute online video featuring a farmer struggling with a corporate farm. To the music of Willie Nelson covering a classic Coldplay song, the farmer changes his ways and reverts his property back to the way he began. The ad was a hit, with millions of views on YouTube. In response to the praise over social media, the company eventually purchased a spot for the ad, its very first on national television.

To see the “Back to the Start” ad yourself, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What is “word of mouth” advertising and how does it work?

2.  Why would executives consider a switch to traditional advertising to be irreversible for Chipotle?

3.  How has Chipotle used social media to make the most of advertising?

Explaining the viral power of the Harlem Shake March 11, 2013

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You can’t go anywhere without hearing someone talk about a new version of the viral video, The Harlem Shake. Following the “Call Me Maybe” fad and the popularity of ‘Gangnam Style,” The Harlem Shake has spawned thousands of renditions on YouTube, altogether garnering  possibly over 100 million views. The dance starts in a simple setting almost anywhere with one person wiggling while everyone else ignores the original dancer; once the music comes on, the entire room goes crazy. As one writer for The Washington Post noted, “What’s interesting about this trend is that the videos have been getting better and better. By today’s standards, the earlier versions—and we’re talking from two weeks ago, so they’re positively ancient at this point—look slow and plodding.”

In an attempt to understand why The Harlem Shake – and viral videos like it – become so popular across the world, Al Jazeera English dedicated almost 30 minutes to examining the phenomenon. To see the story produced by AJE, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  According to the story in AJE, what are some of the factors that make something like The Harlem Shake go viral?

2.  What other viral videos have rivaled The Harlem Shake’s success? How have those videos demonstrated the rules you just described?

3.  Were there viral videos before social media? If so, how did they become viral?