Dogs, Doughnuts & Social Media

The dogs erupted into a barking duet so abruptly I nearly spilled my coffee when the corresponding surge of surprised adrenalin hit the dead-ends of my fingertips.  Once my hand stopped shaking and the coffee waves stilled I was able to think clearly enough to understand what triggered the barking.  A deer had wandered onto the property near the water's edge, close enough that the two dogs felt compelled to alert all in the vicinity to a deer intruder.

The two guard dogs are inherently different, one is a German Shepherd and the other is a Golden Doodle.  The Shepherd is enormous and quite bright.  The Doodle is a large dog with a lovely disposition, and by its owners' admission it isn't gifted with exceptional intellect.  I'm not being unkind; I'm just setting the stage for you.  Both are lovable and very devoted to their owners.  When the two join their voices to bark at something they sound quite frightening. But here's the kicker.  The enormous dog barks when she sees or hears something on the property or nearby.  The large lovable dog barks when the enormous one does!  It took us all a while to figure this phenomenon out and once we did we had some of our best laughs.

Picture this, the Shepherd spots something bark worthy happening and lets loose with her deep throaty warnings that can be very intimidating.  All the hair on her back stands straight up.  Her body is alert.  She is either on a dead run towards her target or standing at attention with ears and nose in high alert.  The Doodle just wants to be part of the excitement and genuinely wants to help to protect the swake from deer but this is where it all comes apart.  Large and lovable, that Doodle, spins around barking at all four corners of the globe uncertain where the actual threat is coming from.  Then something comes over the Doodle and he settles into one position that is completely wrong, barking in a totally different direction than the source of excitement.  The Doodle has a good heart and genuinely wants to do the right thing but he's just not that bright, and so we laugh.

When the kerfuffle on social media erupted this week involving Tim Hortons and Enbridge, I was reminded of the dog barking scenario except it didn't make me laugh.  Someone started making a whole lot of hullaballoo on social media about the cross advertising and thousands of others jumped in to raise the volume without a lot of reasoned thought.  Then Tim Hortons had a knee-jerk reaction and removed the Enbridge ads from in-store TV feeds.  Suddenly the noise level on social media went up again, this time in support of the cross-advertising.  This situation was a classic example of how not to do things.

First of all, for those who jumped into the initial fray and wanted the ads pulled, I'd suggest some personal reflection.  Start with whether you ever ride a bus, fly in an airplane, or drive a car.  Then consider whether you have in your possession any items made from petroleum products, or whether you like having your roads paved.  If you are still thinking that all things gas and oil are evil, take a browse on Earth Science Week and decide whether you'd rather a thatched roof than shingles overhead.  Should all of that still not be enough to at least nudge you to take a reasoned view, you might want to do a little research on Enbridge beyond the pipeline hype.  Check out page 5 of their 2014 Annual Report and you will see that they have been investing in the development of renewable energy since 2002 to the tune of $4B.

Yes that is $4 billion with a B spent on an area that I'm guessing many of those who initially jumped into the fray on social media to pull the ads, would be supportive of.  Did they know that about Enbridge?  What might have been done differently?  Well, in my humble opinion from the sidelines, I think there were other options and those options start with those of us who use social media.

  1. Think before you post.
  2. Do a little research.
  3. Ask yourself what the implications of your post might be.
  4. Decide if you are willing to really live with the possible outcome.
  5. Then post - or not.
Tim Horton's should have backed away from the social media cliff and not reacted.  There was an opportunity for Tim Hortons to work with Enbridge and with Timmie's followers to use social media to defuse the situation.  With a strategic and reasoned campaign both organizations could have determined how to deal with the eruption in a way that allowed something good to come out of it.  Tim's had the chance to find out whether the 23,000 some online protests were from their customer base or not.  They could have launched a counter campaign to ask their own customers what their thoughts were.  They missed a great opportunity to partner with Enbridge to display the ridiculousness of the initial protest.  I'm thinking they could have done a series of video clips that would have demonstrated how Tim Horton's couldn't actually run its operations and no one could buy their double-double if companies like Enbridge were not processing petroleum.  

Without petroleum products there would be no fuel available for the delivery trucks that arrive at Tims daily to drop off the supplies.  The Tims branch would probably leak like crazy because there would be no pitch for those flat roof tops.  The thousands of people that Tims employs wouldn't be able to get to work unless they could walk or ride a horse.  Even getting to work by bicycle wouldn't be an option because bike parts use petroleum products.  Okay, you have the idea.  

As much as I'd like to see the general public take a more reasoned approach to their posts, it is also time for organizations to figure out how to use the social media sandbox in a way that is proactive.  If the folks from Tims or Enbridge communications want to talk, you can find me at Teneo Consulting Inc.  I don't profess to have all the answers, but a little strategic insight can take you a long way.  Keep the story of the dogs in mind when you are tempted to tweet in a reactive way or react to a tweet - make sure you aren't just making a lot of noise in the wrong direction!