The story starts when Domino’s Pizza corporate office received a notice from Consumerist.com. The website had just posted a video to its site that Domino’s should know about. In the video that went viral, two Domino’s store employees were seen joking around as they contaminated customer food orders with unsanitary stunts such as sticking cheese up their noses before adding it to a customer’s sandwich.
It was a nightmare for Domino’s and a reality shock for many corporations that now see just how quickly and easily the digital world can help turn respectable businesses into unsuspecting victims.
Domino’s Pizza is one of the world’s leading pizza chains; with over 8,700 stores in more than 50 countries, with around 5,000 alone in the US, most of them franchised.
Over the past 49 years, the company has built a reputation as a trusted doorstep delivery business that supports the communities in which it resides.
“You call us up and invite us to your home; trust us to make dinner for you; invite us to your doorstep,” explained Tim McIntyre, the company’s vice-president of communications. “That’s sacred to us, and that’s why our people wear full uniforms. We want you to trust us when your doorbell rings.”
This case study details the actions Domino’s took to regain control over the situation and preserve its reputation.
The company has also built a fairly "well oiled machine" when it comes to dealing with various crisis situations that threaten to spoil that trust. "We have a great food distribution system, great suppliers, and great mechanisms in place in the event that we have to participate in a recall," McIntyre continued, also citing other examples of preparations the company makes and the actions it takes to respond to a range of plights, including the tomato scare in 2008.
Still, none of that prepared the company for what happened, when two bored adult employees produced a video that showed one of them tainting supposed customer food orders with bodily fluids. They then posted the video to YouTube.
Domino's learned of the video after it had been posted to YouTube and several other sites, including The Consumerist, which was courteous enough to inform Domino's within an hour of its posting.
Over the next several days, Domino's took the following steps:
The company started by capturing digital images of the two employees' faces from the video and distributed a message to all US locations seeking help in identifying them by name. Upon confirming their identities and pinpointing the location, it then contacted the storeowner and requested that they be fired.
Having no way of knowing at the time whether the video was a hoax, the company contacted the Health Department and local police to file charges against the two culprits.
Simultaneously, the company's social media team immediately contacted YouTube to ask that the video be removed since it was in violation of several of the site's guidelines. YouTube responded that it would pull the video only at the copyright owner's request; it considered the woman who had filmed her coworker to be the rightful owner.
After identifying her from the digital stills, and minutes before she turned herself in three days after the filming, a company representative met the copyright owner and her lawyer on the steps of the local police department with a letter that authorized YouTube to remove the video. Under her lawyer's recommendation, she signed the letter.
Domino's decided it best not to go public with a press release or news conference right away. It knew that by making a public statement, anyone hearing of the issue for the first time would become intent on seeing the original video, thereby encouraging its spread.
Instead, it responded to those who approached the company about the story. It also communicated with those forums that had either posted the video or hosted conversations about the issue. In each case, it drove home that this was something done to the company, not something the company itself had done inappropriately.
Ultimately, it became clear that the buzz was starting to spread through chatter on Twitter, so the company responded with a posted statement on its website and by entering the conversation on Twitter and directing users to that post on its site.
Soon afterward, video views on YouTube grew to half a million.
Three days after the original incident, Domino's posted its own video to YouTube. The video, which used no script and was simply filmed using the Communication Department's flip camera, featured company president Patrick Doyle addressing the issue, calmly and sincerely venting his anger and reiterating how sacred the company holds its customers' trust.
In posting the video response, Domino's used the word "disgusting" in the video title—just as had been done with the original video—so that the new video would come up first when users searched for the original.
The company then posted links to its video on Twitter and on its Facebook page wall.
Within three hours of posting the company video response to YouTube, views of the original video surged to over one million. And for the first time ever, on that day only, search queries for keyword "Domino's" surpassed those for "Paris Hilton."
The company-posted video also quickly propelled the story into mainstream US news, then global media, starting with the BBC and working its way onto Chinese National Television, then Australia and Peru—markets where Domino's doesn't even have stores. A company analysis reckoned 60 million media impressions.
Nevertheless, although the company's video response triggered widespread awareness, it also served to change the story in the company's favor.
"On Monday, for the 100,000 people who first saw the [employee] video, the story was 'look at these disgusting people at Domino's.' Then it became 'what is Domino's doing about it?' When we posted our video, the story morphed into 'how can companies protect themselves in a YouTube world,' with Domino's cited as a company who is handling this crisis," McIntyre said.
Since then, the company has been contacted on multiple occasions by other organizations seeking advice on how to prepare themselves for similar crises.
That's not to say the company did not suffer a setback. "A lot of people got hurt those first couple weeks. [Franchisees'] sales suffered. We reported flat to slightly positive sales in the second quarter, but had this not happened we probably would have had more positive sales," said McIntyre.
Nonetheless, McIntyre reports that the company's stock price was not affected, and the chain received top honors in the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in May.