Online Activism Against Mainstream Media: Spain´s Social Media Crisis of the Year
Everything started when a tv station (Telecinco, a Mediaset company) aired a paid interview in a leading variety show (“La Noria”) with the mother of a convicted criminal, guilty of a crime that shocked Spain in 2011. A widespread practice worldwide, the paid interview triggered a campaign on social media, led by blogger Pablo Herreros under the hashtag #otraTVesposible (“another tv is possible”). Quickly, more than 33,000 signatures were collected by Change.org online activism platform (in Spain it is called “Actuable.es”), requesting that the advertisers pulled-off their ads from the show.
Brands like Vodafone, Decathlon, L´Oreal, Campofrio, Mercedes Benz, among others, started to follow the request to boycott the show, some of them expressing their embarrassment with the interview in formal statements or through their social media platforms.
Of course, the tv station struck back, trying to undermine the credibility of the blogger and of the campaign. But, in the end, the company´s CEO apologized to advertisers the problems happened with the scandal, the tv show lost its prime time, and ultimately, on April, 12 2012, the show was cancelled. The effects of this crisis were felt in shareholders pockets as well: Telecinco stocks went 25% down during the crisis.
Do you think that it ended up this way? Nope. Remember, we are talking about a tv company, and we are talking about Spain, where things tend to be taken in a very passionate way. So be prepared to "payback time": “The Crisis- episode-II”.
A year after the interview had been aired, Telecinco sued Pablo Herreros, backing up their accusations in the “threats” sent by him to the advertisers requesting the boycott. Telecinco wanted a financial compensation of more the US$ 4,5 million and 3 year of imprisonment for the blogger.
Again, outrage in Spain. Now, Change.org gathers 170,000 signatures against Telecinco. The crisis generated a debate on social and traditional media about the power of boycotts (something not common in Spain like, for instance, in the US).
I was astonished by this proof of stubbornness by Telecinco, and lack of social sensitivity. Couldn’t they see that it was a typical case of David against Goliath? I wrote three posts on my blog about this, the second about possible strategies to overcome the conflict (in Spanish).
Telecinco claimed that it was not a vendetta, but a “defense on self speech”, since the blogger campaign was an “interference” on the editorial line of the company. In my opinion, it was like saying “in order to defend our free of speech right, we are going to send you to jail because you do not have the right to speak freely”. How contradictory.
A week passed until common sense prevailed and Telecinco and Herreros entered into an agreement. Apparently, it was a happy end for Herreros, who is now a kind of national blogger hero now. For Telecinco, another k.o in the public image arena.
My taken from all this reputation crisis comes in two levels, one, more practical, and another, more theoretical:
- The first lesson is: how a crisis can be so mismanaged? Especially from a television company, an organisatiion that, supposedly, knows communications and perceptions a lot? It is amazing the level of mistakes made. Perhaps, group thinking entered in the game, and Telecinco executives thought that was a case that “us against them”. Also, passion, and little cold-hearted decision on the decision making process was evident. Probably, too, no experts on crisis managers were at hand to help Telecinco (though I bet that there were many litigation lawyers involved). The only logical reason I see for suing Herreros: the fiduciary obligation that the company’s manager have, so they demanded the blogger just to look good to their shareholders.
- The second lesson has to do with the relation of corporate responsibility on reputation. There is a nice article on this, and I like very much the illustration where it is clear that reputation is a dynamic construct. A company has to adapt itself to new social expectations in order to be considered a legitimate player. Perhaps companies should be more careful that social media is an amplifier of social trends, and organizations should take social media inputs wiser.
Brazilian, living in Madrid, crisis and reputation management consultant and lecturer, currently working on a PhD thesis on crisis management and social media. More than 20 years of experience in marketing and communication in large organizations and agencies. Blog: www.carlosvictorcosta.com Twitter @cavicosta.
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