If you had your eyes on social media this week, you may have heard about the Home Depot water debacle. The short of it? A guy walks into a Home Depot in Calgary (where they are currently experiencing horrific flooding) and purchases 24 bottles of Dasani water to the tune of $49ish dollars. He later takes to social media to complain about being charged $49 for water, social media erupts and puts the brand on trial for their supposed price gouging during a disaster.
Except that’s not exactly what happened.
Chris Ives and I bring you this account of what went down and we speak to how fearful companies and brands can be at times of social media. After reading this post, you may not blame them either.
So, What Happened?
On June 21st a storm of social media rumours and half-truths erupted across Twitter.
With all of Canada following mainstream and social media for the latest pictures and videos of the flood crisis in Calgary, the fear for local residents around essentials was rising. Basic Maslow took over for some and the worry about access to basic physiological necessities forced residents into the streets to find water and food.
One of the local residents, faced with this exact fear, headed into his local Home Depot to buy some water. He grabbed 24 individual bottles of Dasani water and, according to the receipt, checked out at self-checkout [Note: according to the customer’s Twitter feed, the cashier rang up the bottles at a cash register but then had him go to self-checkout to pay].
Here is a copy of his receipt:
When the customer got home, he took to social media to complain about the high cost of water and equated that cost to Home Depot participating in price gouging due to the disaster state that Calgary is in. Once people caught wind of the supposed price gouging of flood victims, a firestorm of RTs and messages blasted Home Depot’s social media accounts.
The Social Media Sphere Was Out for Blood
Why you would buy 24 individual bottles of Dasani… or why you would go to Home Depot for water… or how the receipt shown ended up with so much press are not the questions that flood watchers asked. What they asked for instead was blood:
Way to build customer #loyalty: .@HomeDepotCanada on 16th are selling flats of water for $48. #YYCflood #extortion #custserv
Real classy @HomeDepotCanada ! I know this is out there but you have some explaining to do!! #gouging #boycott http://twitpic.com/cytkdz
So interesting to see @Lowes_Canada make a large donation this AM and @HomeDepotCanada be accused of gouging. #yycflood #judgeasyouseefit
Companies like @HomeDepotCanada need a wake up call. Please RT and help spread the word. #abflood #yycflood
In the midst of this brewing storm @HomeDepotCanada tweeted this:
Shortly after they apologized for the “confusion” saying they “resolved the issue” and then published a public apology on their Facebook page:
Appropriate Actions, Yes? But… Was the Damage Already Done?
It is moments like this that create fear for corporations and brands who may be thinking about moving into the social media space.
For Home Depot specifically, they did take appropriate actions. They were open, responsive, action-focused and honest.
In a world that is notorious for speaking loudly about the negative aspects of customer service but keeping mum on the good moments, a silver lining poked through the controversy surrounding this issue. Recently, Home Depot fans and supporters have stepped up to question the customer’s purchase and to ask the very things that should have been asked from day one. Here is one of those accounts:
Home Depot has not stepped in with an “I told you so” (as further details surfaced about the customer’s purchase and as fellow customers questioned the motives of the person who Tweeted the receipt initially) and they have not released or made any defensive statements that could ultimately place the blame back on the customer.
They have also not challenged the mainstream media, specifically Storify and Sun News in Calgary, who published news stories about the brand clearly slanted from one perspective. They have simply apologized, showed their support for the disaster relief efforts in Calgary and they left it to their supporters to defend them.
What Can Brands and Corporations Learn From This?
Many brands think that by not existing in the social media space, they can avoid moments like this altogether. It’s just not true. You need to be on social media, active and engaged at all times. You simply never know when a crisis might occur (like this one) and not being there won’t make it go away.
It is nearly impossible to control or manage your brand in the public space and, as many of us know, the conversations will continue regardless of whether the brand is there or not. The opportunity for brands on social media is to exist (and engage) in the space so that they can join in when these conversations occur, mitigate the damage caused and repair it to the best of their ability.
Being a brand on social media is complex. It is difficult to manage all of your customer’s expectations and come out the hero at the end of each day. However, being in the space at least affords you to that opportunity and allows you to partake in clearly shining moments like this one:
What Say You?
What are the opportunities for the brand and what are some of the potential pitfalls that they need to be aware of? Leave your response in the comments below!