How DirecTV and Viacom Used Social Media to Defend their Corporate Reputations

Posted Jul. 12 2012, 09:10:55 am

Nick Sargent

Director of Digital Strategy


That was an epic fight, bro!

How else could you describe what went down between Viacom and DirecTV this week? Particularly when Viacom tapped JWOWW as its wingman in the corporate reputation throw down. 


I got pulled into the fight when a three-tiered ticker popped up on MTV Tuesday night. You had to chuckle as their carefully crafted messaging simultaneously scrolled across the screen. But when they took the fight outside into the social media ring —  complete with competing hashtags (#whendirectvdrops and #DIRECTVhasmyback) – things got really heated. Here’s what some of the reaction looked like: 


It was fascinating to watch these giant corporations plead their cases in real-time  on Tuesday night. You could tell they both wanted to get public sentiment on their side as negotiations went into the 11th hour. Viacom and DirecTV weren’t afraid of the conversations. They hoped they could activate their customers and fans to tip the scales in their favor. (As of Thursday morning, consider the fight a draw as Viacom is off the air for DirecTV subscribers like me, but both sides said they still hope to strike a deal).  

While I think Viacom and DirecTV had varying degrees of success in their tactics, their embrace of social media is in stark contrast to a group of executives polled for a recent Deloitte/Forbes report on risk management and corporate reputation.  The survey showed that many executives see social media as a threat – one of the top four reputational risks their companies face.  They fear the “wildfire” effect of social media and how it can accelerate other risks say like negative reaction to a contentious contract negotiation.  

That fear isn’t uncommon, but it is misplaced. To paraphrase our partner Jay Baer: You have to fight social media wildfire with social media water.  

DirecTV and Viacom tried to do just that. Rather than demanding its star employees like JWOWW, Daniel Tosh and Hulk Hogan keep their mouths shut, Viacom encouraged them to spread the word and get their communities on its side. Sadly, the Deloitte/Forbes report shows that too many companies still believe that employee use of social media is a risk to corporate reputation rather than an opportunity to empower employees to build and protect it.

I preferred DirectTV’s approach as it used its Twitter account to engage confused customers and defend its corporate reputation.  The company directed fans to  a microsite designed specifically for these contract conflicts, which encouraged customer feedback and suggested ways subscribers could watch their favorite Viacom shows for free.  (In response, Viacom yanked a lot of those shows offline. Not smart.)

In short, DirecTV listened to and engaged its customers. Just 20 percent of execs surveyed by Deloitte/Forbes even monitor social media to understand the risk to their corporate reputation. I would wager that even less engage its customers like DirecTV did this week.  

The real risk of social media isn’t the harm the “wildfire” can do to your corporate reputation.  The risk lies in failing to listen to your communities when they’re screaming to be heard. And why handcuff your employees – your most knowledgeable advocates — from taking part rather than empowering them to help. 

As we tell our clients: These conversations are happening with or without you. It’s time to start being part of them.

So what do you think about the social battle between Viacom and DirecTV?

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