PR case study: Apple’s iPhone response

It's interesting to see how a huge company like Apple (which has been riding a wave of positive buzz in recent years thanks to the iPod, iPad, and iPhone) handles a potential blow to its image.

By Mike Davin, online editor, Boating IndustryOn Friday, Apple held a press conference to respond to accusations that its wildly popular iPhone 4 features a defective antenna that drops calls when users hold it the wrong way.

No less than company founder Steve Jobs addressed the press, telling them that Apple isn't perfect, that devices from other smartphone makers have the same problem and that Apple will provide users with a free case (which Consumer Reports says solves the issue) or a full refund on the phone.

It remains to be seen whether that will put an end to the complaints, but it's interesting to see how a huge company like Apple (which has been riding a wave of positive buzz in recent years thanks to the iPod, iPad, and iPhone) handles a potential blow to its image.

The company did a lot of things right. The response came from the top and the reparations were hard to argue with: a free solution or your money back.

However, the biggest mistake the company made was not getting in front of the problem early enough. Sure, they said it took time to study. ("This was 22 days ago. ... We haven't had our head in the sand. We've been working on this for just 22 days. We are an engineering company, and we want to find out what the real problem is.") But in today's viral world, 22 days is just about an eternity. And 22 days worth of negative online posts, tweets and rants without a proper response can kill a brand's image.

That's something something every business needs to bear in mind these days — if you aren't on top of what's being said about you online, things can quickly spiral out of control. Apple says the number of actual complaints it received about the iPhone 4 wasn't unusual for a new product launch, but it sure didn't seem that way based on what was being said online. And online perception can quickly trump reality if you let it spin out of control.

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Make a habit of monitoring what's being said about your business online and address complaints quickly. A quick and helpful response can  turn a disgruntled customer into a lifelong fan — and create an online ally who will defend you rather than bash you.

You can set up Google Alerts to automatically notify you when your brand is mentioned online and there are Twitter Alert applications available to ensure you are notified when your brand is mentioned on that site.

Think about it this way: In the old days, there was no way to know if people were bad-mouthing you behind your back. Now, with a little effort, you can actually join those conversations and change the tone before your image falls victim to the rumor mill.

What do you think? Do you pay attention to what's being said about your business online?

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