Sometimes things just go right and everything falls into place. Perhaps your video goes viral, or a campaign gets more attention than you expected, and you reap the benefits of what some might refer to as “the perfect storm.”
It’s also called catching lightning in a bottle.
But this past weekend, CVS seems to have gotten struck by lightning in what seems to be an incredibly imperfect confluence of events.
I was researching CVS’s social media presence for another blog post when I stumbled upon what appears to be a real mess for the pharmacy chain, and is just one more in an increasing number of social media crises being weathered by companies that seem to have been caught off guard.
First, let me state that CVS has seems to have done a lot of the right things up until this point. They have a rather robust and active Facebook page with nearly 900,000 fans. And their “talking about this” metric is actually quite high, though we need to remember when people are “talking about” us, our goal is to have them talking positively, not negatively.
Additionally, they are working hard to get customers to connect with them more online, particularly via their Rewards Card program. Let me also say that I’m a rather frequent CVS customer, and have enjoyed their deals and service over the years, though I am by no means particularly brand loyal. I’ll do my shopping for prescriptions and other items wherever I feel I can get the best deal.
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Here are the events as I’ve seen them unfold over the past few days:
1. A CVS store in New Jersey mistakenly distributed a breast cancer drug to parents thinking they were getting flouride pills for their children – The story hit the national media quickly on Saturday, and a news search for CVS on Google prominently displays the story right at the top:
People begin commenting and posting articles about this on the CVS Facebook wall throughout the weekend, but while the company issued an official statement about the mix up, they never posted the statement on either their Facebook page or their website (as far as I could tell, and I searched for quite some time).
2. This all happened while CVS is running a campaign to have users tell “My CVS Pharmacist Story” – The Facebook page is promoting this campaign, including a landing tap, offering a discount coupon in exchange for sharing a story about your favorite CVS pharmacist:
The purpose of the campaign is to crowdsource and personalize the chain by letting people share their positive stories about their local pharmacist. Needless to say, when CVS promoted this contest on Friday, they got comments, but many of them were negative.
Then when the above story broke, comments about the mix up in New Jersey were included.
Additionally, quite a few users complained that the mechanism for entering the promotion wasn’t working, and that they hadn’t received their coupons.
Again, no response to any of the comments from CVS.
3. CVS was testing a new type of print ad in several markets – When the company posted a “sneak peek” of the weekend ads on Thursday, many people clicked only to discover something very different. When you click on the link, it takes you to the ad for the CVS Stores in your market; the same insert that you get in your Sunday paper. The test ad was a one page insert which apparently featured one 20% off coupon for non-sale items, and the regular sales in those areas would not start until Wednesday, rather than on Sunday as usual. People were not amused, and the comments came in.
And when others in those test markets received their Sunday paper with the smaller insert, they took their complaints to Facebook, and again, there was a lot of negativity in the air (including one unrelated, yet negative, accusation).
Now, I’m a very forgiving person. Many of the negative comments I saw were rather nasty, with people threatening to never shop at CVS again. CVS did say that this was merely a “test”, and in my mind, that means they should be cut some slack. I’m assuming that since it is a test, the feedback they receive on Facebook, and through other channels, will be considered alongside other metrics as to whether they expand this test program to other markets. I won’t pretend to know what their criteria might be, but I would assume that somewhere at the top of the list would be sales numbers. It will be interesting to see how they address this.
But yet again, as the negative comments rolled in, no one from CVS seemed to be monitoring the Facebook page, or if they were, they were not responding. And people were certainly noticing the lack of response:
Not the best of weekends for the folks at CVS.
There are a few lessons to be learned here:
1. Even when things seem to be going smoothly, you must be prepared for a crisis – The instance of dispensing wrong drugs at one pharmacy went national very fast. People will be concerned, and you need to not only respond, but respond accordingly. If people are talking about it on Facebook, then by all means, respond on Facebook. This is both the beauty and the curse of social media.
2. Monitor at all times – More important than engaging is making sure you are monitoring your brand. If your stores are open on weekends, and news is being reported on weekends, you can’t treat your social presence like a 9-5, Monday through Friday proposition. Many CVS stores are open 24 hours. People are online 24 hours. Bad things can happen at any time, so you need to be prepared. This may not sound reasonable for a small, local business, but a national chain should be on top of this.
3. Respond – Social media is about being social. It’s not just another means for pushing out messages. People will comment and post on your wall, and they expect a response. This is the social media world in which we live. If you are monitoring, you must respond to what you see, even if you don’t have all the answers. Just let people know you are listening to their concerns and are looking into things. Explain your actions. Answer questions. And if your company issues a statement, make sure you post it in the appropriate places. If you don’t respond, people will notice, and they’ll just comment more. You cannot think that by ignoring them they will go away.
4. Be careful of automation – I don’t know the answers on this, but CVS was posting on their wall throughout the weekend. My guess is that this might have been done through scheduled posts via a third-party app. This sort of thing can be useful for posting things on weekends or off hours, but if you do this, you need to be prepared. Again, you need to monitor and respond. And in some cases you might need to unschedule some previously scheduled posts. When CVS posts about a special photo offer on Sunday, after not responding to comments throughout the weekend, it appears as if they are there, but are ignoring the comments.
5. Social media is more about customer service than it is marketing – Those business that approach social media first and foremost as a marketing tool are doomed to fail. We, as consumers, are not on social platforms in order to hear your sales pitch. They are there to communicate with you on a two-way street. Customer service must come first, and then the marketing aspect will follow. But if you are merely pushing out your sanitized message, people will not be happy.
6. Problems can happen on multiple levels – While the dispensing of incorrect meds was the most serious issue CVS faced, it affected the smallest number of people, but had the greatest impact across the web. While there appeared to be no ill-effects from the mix up, the results could have been disastrous, and you can bet CVS is using this to address a number of issues internally.
As I write this on Sunday evening, the story continues. Thankfully, it does NOT appear as if any comments or posts from others have been deleted, but there has been nothing but silence coming from the company. I’ll be interested to see how it is deal with, if at all, once the weekend is over.
What’s your view of what happened to CVS over the weekend?