Socially Inept Samsung

I asked my Public Relations Principles class this week to check on Samsung’s response to its Galaxy Note 7 crisis on the company’s Facebook and Twitter social media platforms. In the wake of the well-chronicled travails of the smartphone/phablet that literally set the marketplace on fire, I thought it would be a good lesson in real-time crisis management.

It was. But not to Samsung’s credit.

The day before my class, Tuesday, Oct. 11, Samsung was the top of the Top Stories categories on Google News. At 6 a.m. (U.S. Eastern Daylight Time) the top story was that Samsung was halting production on the Note 7 in the wake of yet more incidents that “replacement” models were also catching fire. By 8 a.m. the top story was that Samsung was permanently discontinuing the model.

As I pointed out to my class, Samsung had even managed to knock Donald Trump off the Top Story perch — no mean feat in the wake of last Sunday night’s debate that followed closely on the revelations of now-infamous Access Hollywood tape.

And yet, on both the Samsung Mobile USA Facebook page and Samsung Mobile US Twitter feed, their “Top Story” was their Gear 360 product. I was stunned at the lack of urgency and timeliness along with the general ineptitude of Samsung’s response.  Other than a pinned tweet from Sept. 9 — more than a month ago — that talked about the original Note 7 exchange program, you wouldn’t know that the Note 7 problems were at the top of Samsung’s mind.  Other Facebook posts about the original recall dating from mid- to late-September were now totally useless and outdated, having been superseded by recent events.

In fairness, another Samsung Twitter account, Samsung Mobile, had tweeted about the stopping of production. But that tweet was posted on Oct. 12 — the day after the news broke — and that account was not the first one to come up in a Twitter search for “Samsung.” One step that might be in order would be to synchronize all the Samsung Twitter accounts.

Samsung customers were understandably angry, frustrated and concerned about the Note 7. That one Facebook post about Gear 360 was filled with comments asking about the Note 7 instead, including such tidbits as:

  • “I’m not okay with this mess,”
  • “I just learned how bad Samsung truly is…”
  • “[I]t’s off to [A]pple I go, I’ve been a fan for years but you guys dropped the ball on this device in more ways than one…”

Customers were looking for conversation and answers; they weren’t getting it from Samsung. I don’t think the Facebook post on Gear 360 did that product line any good either, becoming a case of guilt by association. Their Facebook page “About” entry says in part, “Need device help? We’re here for whatever you need.” It’s time for the company to live up to that promise.

As a public relations professional and teacher, I have always stressed the importance of speed, candor, empathy and active engagement whenever an organization confronts a crisis. Social media is an invaluable tool in addressing and managing a crisis, but only if it’s done correctly. Note to Samsung: Get social on the Note 7 crisis and do it now. It’s not only about a single product in one of your many lines. It’s about your company’s brand reputation across the board.

As far as my class goes, reaction fell a little short of my righteous indignation at Samsung’s social shortcomings. Maybe it’s because the bulk of them were iPhone users. Maybe it’s because millenials seem more forgiving of product failures, particular electronic hardware and software. That makes it more challenging for me to convince them of the urgency a company needs to manage a crisis rather than have the crisis manage the company.

Author’s Note: I am not associated with any of Samsung’s competitors. I previously owned a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone and I have a Samsung computer monitor and television. I may soon be in the market for a new TV. What brand should I be looking at?


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