4 reasons why Cell C’s full-page apology was a masterstroke

On the 28th of July, comedian Trevor Noah posted a skit that poked fun at South African cellphone companies on YouTube.  In spite of relatively few views, Cell C took the opportunity to run a full page letter of apology in the Sunday Times of August 1, 2010.

I believe that doing so was a masterstroke and I applaud Cell C for its response. This is why:

1. Responding shows you are listening and that you care.

Whether this was by accident or not, a public response shows that Cell C is listening. Someone was scanning the internet, and probably using reputation management tools like Brandseye or Saidwot, to monitor people’s perception of their service.

Listening is one of the cornerstones of the social internet. Everything that is said is stored digitally and can be tracked and found. There is no excuse not to hear what is being said about you.

2. The response was quick and decisive.

The YouTube video was uploaded on the Wednesday, and the Sunday Times is printed on the Saturday. This means that in order to get it into the paper, both Cell C and their agency reacted pretty quickly and decisively.

The ability to react quickly is imperative in the always, on always connected world. Things change at the speed of light and being able and nimble enough to notice and do something about it is crucial.

[ Click to see full letter ]

3. The response wasn’t online.

That’s really interesting. It may just be because the organisation is still stuck in traditional marketing, but there is a possibility that the company recognised an opportunity to engage. Although the fact that they didn’t publish links on the page — or even include a QR code, probably means that I may be reading things into their media choices that don’t exist.

4. The response was honest.

Management defaults naturally to planning and control. When things go off the rails we try to get it back on. When we are criticised we minimise damage and try to get the brand under control again. Mostly we do this by putting a spin onto the story.  A way to present the story that shows us and our brand in a good light, in spite of the truth.

Honesty is the currency of social media. Because of the connections that make up the social web, everyone knows the truth anyway. Bull dusting is futile. Apologising for the poor cell service available in South Africa and promising something different is a brave step. Telling the truth is amazingly rare and is very likely to garner customer support. It pre-empts a negative social media backlash.

It may be opportunist but it places Cell C in a different space for me. The company has taken a huge step. Cell C may have realised that we don’t control our brand, we can only create the conditions in which a brand can flourish. It’s the essence of New Marketing.

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