IKEA Italy: what not to do when facing a social media crisis


IKEA - it takes little to change
Figure 1: IKEA Italy has run from its change manifesto site “it takes little to change”, now taken down

Get the popcorn out, the IKEA Italy social media crisis is getting even more interesting, although unfortunately not to IKEA’s credit. IKEA Italy has taken their change manifesto site offline and replaced it with the following message (translated from the Italian):

This site has been attacked by computer hackers.
We are therefore forced to take down these pages to protect the privacy of all the people who had left their ideas about change.
Thanks to all the contributors.
IKEA Italy

So IKEA Italy has finally acknowledged that they have a social media crisis underway, better late than never. Last Saturday IKEA also posted about their labor dispute on their Facebook page.

IKEA takes a page out of the social media book of what not to do

Too bad that IKEA Italy’s response is a page directly out of the social media book of what not to do.

Social media changes communication paradigms by empowering bottom-up voices which interact with traditional top-down communication from institutions and businesses. For traditional communicators to remain credible in the new social media landscape, their digital communication needs to at least appear to be authentic, sincere and transparent (ideally it would actually be so, but I digress). Anything less is counterproductive, it just opens the communicator up to criticism and scorn.

While it is true that we are all continuously learning how to best use social media, one good starting point is to learn from others’ mistakes. The IKEA Italy digital communication team apparently isn’t familiar with the now abundant case studies of failed social media crisis responses. One lesson learned by politicians and businesses alike is to avoid using computer hackers as an excuse for a social media crisis when this isn’t the case. Unfounded excuses are quickly exposed, compounding the crisis.

Since IKEA Italy’s change manifesto site allowed anyone to add an initially unmoderated comment, there was no need to “hack” the site to add unflattering content. Either IKEA Italy’s digital communications team doesn’t understand what “computer hack” means (a failing on their part) or IKEA Italy is assuming their site visitors won’t figure out that they’ve been lied to. Neither scenario is a winning scenario. IKEA Italy is also using “privacy” as an excuse for taking the site down. Privacy? Unfortunately they’ve failed the social media credibility test again.

Social media crises will happen, that’s when your supporters matter

IKEA Italy arguably has a strong brand and clearly lots of good will among its many customers. IKEA Italy needs to convincingly argue its case, in part to give its supporters reason to rally around IKEA. In making its case, IKEA also needs to take into account the very real skepticism many Italians have regarding worker treatment – and keep in mind the pillars of successful social media: authenticity, transparency, sincerity. For years HP was very well regarded (and successful) specifically for the value it placed on its employees, part of what was known as the HP Way. Perhaps IKEA has a similar story to tell? Now would be a good time to tell it.

Unmoderated comments an #epicfail?

Some observers of the unfolding social media crisis have postulated that IKEA Italy’s choice to create a site which accommodated unmoderated comments was a cause of IKEA Italy’s social media crisis, even calling it an #epicfail. That view misses the point of how social media is different from traditional communication. Social media enables conversations between companies and their customers and criticism is part of conversation. Companies need to be mature enough to accept criticism, to the extent it isn’t vulgar or defamatory. To only publish positive comments is to return to dictator style communication. The good news is that those companies who do embrace social media, warts and all, outperform those which are afraid to expose themselves (link via FIR, thanks).

IKEA, please check your courtesy page

Another issue which has emerged from IKEA Italy’s social media kerfuffle is a reminder that too many companies think their website visitors all pass through a home page. SEO professionals know otherwise :-). In replacing their change manifesto site with a courtesy page, IKEA Italy has forgotten about all of the incoming links which point to other pages within the site, the http://www.spazioalcambiamento.it/manifesto page in particular:

IKEA Italy forgot to configure their courtesy page for the entire site, oh dearFigure 2: An easily corrected IKEA Italy communication failure

Visitors to this page are going to completely miss IKEA Italy’s explanation for having taken down the site, perhaps not a bad thing in the end.

A word to the wise: don’t skimp on your digital communication.

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About Sean Carlos

Sean Carlos is a digital marketing consultant & teacher, assisting companies with their Search (SEO + SEA = SEM), Social Media & Digital Media Analytics strategies. Sean first worked with text indexing in 1990 in a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then he worked for Hewlett-Packard Consulting and later as IT Manager of a real estate website before founding Antezeta in 2006. Sean is an official instructor of the Digital Analytics Association and collaborates with the Bocconi University. He is Chairman of the SMX Search and Social Media Conference, 12 & 13 November in Milan. He is also a co-author of the Treccani encyclopedic dictionary of computer science, ICT & digital media. Born in Providence, RI, USA, Sean received Honors in Physics from Bates College, Maine. He speaks English, Italian and German.