#38 – Uber’s $100k hacker cover up, McDonald’s Black Friday winning fail, and a Denver coffee shop in hot water!
A tale of two coffee social media campaigns. One will get you pumped up and the other frothing at the mouth!
Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:
- Uber tries to cover up data breach by paying off hackers.
- Did McDonald’s social media team make the biggest Black Friday Twitter blunder or was it a clever ploy?
- A Denver coffee shop’s controversial sign has social media up in arms.
If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.
Transcript (forgive us for any typos):
Andy Beal: Welcome back, you guys. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. That’s going to mean nothing to you if you’re listening to this at some random point in the year, but this is the first episode back after thanksgiving, and things have not been quiet over the last week or so. Guess who’s back in the news again? Yes, it’s Uber. Seems like every few months, we have to talk about some kind of reputation crisis that Uber has. This time, Erin, they’ve paid hackers over $100,000 to delete the hacked data of 57 million people and to keep quiet about it, and perhaps the worst part of this is that this happened over a year ago.
Erin Jones: Yeah, all I can say about Uber at this point is that Uber needs help.
Andy Beal: Well-
Erin Jones: I feel really bad for their new CEO right now.
Andy Beal: Yeah, and it’s always tough for the new CEO because you kind of start questioning, well, have things really changed? They got this new CEO, but we’re still seeing these issues, but this happened over a year ago when it wasn’t his watch, and you can argue that at least he’s coming in and cleaning shop and taking decisive action, but it’s just one thing after another.
Erin Jones: Right, and is it too little too late? I’ve heard great things about the new leadership. I actually have a friend that used to work under the new CEO that has nothing but great things to say about him, but I don’t know if people care anymore. It just, every time we turn around, something else is in the news, and I guess their third-quarter losses are over 1.4 billion dollars, and people are voting with their dollars right now.
Andy Beal: Well, that gets me question, is the brand beyond salvaging because it had so many issues that cover everything from sexual harassment to privacy to, you name it, they’ve just about faced it. I mean, is it time to shut Uber down and just call it day?
Erin Jones: I absolutely wonder the same thing. They’ve gotten to a point now here it almost feels, I don’t want to say like a sitcom, more like, I guess, a dark comedy, but there could be a whole book written on, they’ve covered just about every breach in trustworthiness and reputation and trustability, I don’t … Is that a word?
Andy Beal: Hey, that could be a name of your first book, Trustability.
Erin Jones: Trustability. It’s just getting to the point where it doesn’t feel real anymore.
Andy Beal: Right. It feels that way because you don’t expect a company to act that way. I mean, you should be putting your customers first. You shouldn’t be thinking about, “Oh my gosh, we’re going through all of these legal stuff. This is really going to hurt us, so let’s pay off the hackers.” These are people that are criminals, and you’re trusting that they’re actually going to delete the data after you’ve paid them off, which I can’t believe they actually would do that. Why would they? You’ve gotten one time. Why not come back again? I mean, you should be putting the customer first. I mean, if you have a data breach like this, your very first thing is to let the customers know so that they can kind of protect their credit scores and change passwords and make sure that this is not an ongoing thing. Even if it hurts you financially, you’ve got to put the customer first because if you don’t, then why would the customer choose you first over your competition?
Erin Jones: I couldn’t agree more, and the fact … I mean, we’ve all seen the movie. This has played out so predictably, the fact that they paid these people and that they would just go quietly into the night. Does anybody think that that was really going to happen, or did they go, “You know what? Let’s do this now, and the new leadership can worry about it later.”
Andy Beal: Yeah, and I’ve said this time and time again. When you make a mistake, you need to be sincere, transparent, and then consistent. Well, the CEO coming out, saying, “We will learn from our mistakes,” well, you’re not learning from your mistakes because you continue to have mistakes and you’re not sharing any evidence that you have stabilized things and that you’re putting the customer first. I think at this point, they are so big … I’ve worked for a company that grew so large that it started to not put the customer first. It started to put the investors and the stakeholders first and did whatever it could to try and keep that big revenue stream churning along, and then ultimately, the company failed and shut down.
I think that’s where Uber is because they’re so large right now that they really cannot do the right thing without hurting investors, but it’s a double-edged sword because if they don’t do the right thing, investors ar not going to have anything left to protect.
Erin Jones: I agree, and I think it’s starting to trickle down to their drivers. In the past, we’ve talked about how people are separating the corporate reputation from the local drivers a little bit because they like the service. I was recently on a trip. I took, actually, Lyft rides to and from the airport in both destinations and around while I was on my trip, and many of the drivers I spoke to drive for both companies but said their Lyft experience has been better of late. I think it’s starting to trickle down, and I think that’s where it’s really going to hurt them.
Andy Beal: For those listening, this is a good lesson from that. Either you build a better version of Uber or you look at what’s happening to Uber, and you’re like, “Okay, we vow that that won’t happen to us.” Either Lyft came along with a better version of Uber from the outset, and this is just now getting our attention, or not just now, I mean, over the course of the last yeah or two where it’s getting our attention that Lyft is just a better company, or Lyft benefited from being the second horse in the race and said, “Look, this is what we’re going to learn from Uber’s mistakes, and we’re going to shore this up before anything can possible happen like this to us.” Either way, it’s a win for Lyft, and I’ll certainly be using Lyft next time I need transportation because even regardless of how great the driver is, why would we want to keep giving money to a company as bad as Uber?
Erin Jones: Agreed, and especially if they’re going to be driving for Lyft as well.
Andy Beal: Right.
Erin Jones: My question for you on this is if Uber came to you, and I’m sure they would have to come to you with a whole lot of want to be better, is this the time that you would recommend closing up and rebranding, or would you recommend that they try to soldier through this?
Andy Beal: I think they need to earn back the trust of their customers, and they need to … I think they announced that they’re going to have some kind of former attorney general come in to take a look at this specific thing, and that’s the problem. Uber keeps pledging that they’re going to fix this specific mistake that comes to light, but what they’ve gotta do is they have got to do a clean sweep of the entire company, look under every rug in every closet. Don’t just show that you’re bringing in outside help to fix this particular issue. Demonstrate that you’re bringing in outside guidance, help, expert, whoever it is to make sure that no stone is unturned, that you are going to uncover everything, pull the bandaid off, and have a clean start.
I don’t recommend, though, shutting down, rebranding, all that kind of stuff, but they’ve gotta start putting the customer first, and they’ve gotta do that proactively instead of retroactively, otherwise, there’s always going to be something that’s going to be uncovered because you’ve not changed the backbone, the underlying character of the company and what it was built on.
Erin Jones: I think this is going to be a very expensive couple of years for Uber.
Andy Beal: Yeah, yeah. Okay, well, we’ve ranted on that. We actually have a really cool story for the next one. You may have seen this if you are on Twitter, and on Black Friday, you woke up to the amazingly-crafted tweet from McDonald’s that led, that read sorry, quote, “Black Friday *** Need copy and link ***.” Best tweet I’ve seen in a long time, and of course, I’m joking; however, it was kind of the best tweet I’ve seen in a long time because it actually got a lot of people sharing and replying to it, didn’t it, Erin?
Erin Jones: It did, and I kind of love it. Whether it was a mistake or not, they responded quickly and they handled it with grace, and I think that sometimes when you say, “Well, that was embarrassing,” it humanizes your brand a lot, and for a brand as big as McDonald’s, adding a little bit of human to their brand, I don’t think was a bad thing to do.
Andy Beal: No, you’re absolutely right. McDonald’s came back a few hours later and tweeted a photo of a guy drinking a cup of McCafe coffee and it said, “When you tweet before your first cup of McCafe, nothing comes before coffee,” which runs in line with the TV commercials they’ve been doing about needing to have your coffee first in the morning, but you’re absolutely right because they humanized it. When you have an embarrassing mistake, you need to be in on the joke. You need to show, and I …
Was it General Motors with the Chevy truck giveaway to the MVP of the World Series a few years ago when the person that presented the truck was just, oh, just rambling, and he’s like, “It comes with technology and stuff,” and the Internet went crazy just because it was so bad. He looked like Chris Farley and all of this kind of stuff. Then GM got in on the joke, and the spokesperson said, “This is true. It does have technology and stuff,” and they even put it on the homepage of their website. They got in on the joke and turned something that was potentially embarrassing into a big win, but I want to go back to something you said. Was this deliberate or not? Can you imagine how awesome this is if somebody actually deliberately did this to get attention. That is next-level social media tweet bait.
Erin Jones: It is. Now, with a brand as big as McDonald’s, I have a really hard time believing that the higher ups would’ve approved something because it’s a little risky, but I love it, especially following up with a coffee joke because so many of us understand that coffee makes the world go around, and without our caffeine in the morning … Even people who don’t work in our field I think have all said something silly or foolish on social media and have it come out a little bit foot-in-mouth, so I think this appeals to a really, really wide audience, and it is, it’s just so humanizing.
Andy Beal: We have our own example of that when one of us tweeted one time on the Trackur account that they were staying in and having ice cream with their girl and doing it right or something like that. I’m not going to say who it was, but I don’t have kids so. We’re in on the joke. I use that in presentations because it’s hilarious. It’s like, look, show a human side. If you’re going to make a mistake, let it be something that everybody can laugh at, including your brand. I’ve embarrassed Erin enough, so we’ll move on to a different-
Erin Jones: Five years that one’s been carrying. That’s awesome.
Andy Beal: Well, until I make a bad mistake, I’m just going to keep using it. Let’s still keep on the coffee track, but not in a positive way because ink! Coffee in Denver got into a lot, pardon the pun, hot water, didn’t they?
Erin Jones: They really did. They had a sign out in front of their coffee shop. This particular location is in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, which is one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, and for a long time, was also one of Denver’s poorest neighborhoods. Lately, there’s been an effort to clean up the area, and ink! Coffee thought it would be fun to put a sign up that said, “Happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014,” and to further rub salt on the wound, the back of the sign said, “Nothing says gentrification like being able to order a cortado.”
Andy Beal: Oh.
Erin Jones: Now, I’m not sure if they realize, because gentrification has been a little bit trendy since the Showtime show Shameless came out, but the definition of gentrification is that it’s defined as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people, which is good, into deteriorating areas that often displaces the poorer residents, not so good.
Andy Beal: Right.
Erin Jones: Coupling that with the cafe’s owner being a self-described Aspen ski bum, people are very up and arms about this.
Andy Beal: In the ages, he’s take a bit of flack too for coming up with or at least contributing to the campaign, and it makes me wonder how we got to this point because you would think to yourself, why would a local coffee shop not understand the sentiment of those that frequent that coffee shop, but as you pointed out, this is a pretty large chain in Denver. When you grow, the temptation is to keep your voice no matter what, so whatever market you’re in, you keep your voice, and maybe ink! Coffee has this sarcastic voice that it likes to use across all of its brands, I don’t know the chain, but you need to understand the voice of the consumer in your area. It’s no excuse to get super large, and you see this with companies that, on a global scale, they’ll move into another country, try to use the same ad campaign, and it doesn’t work because they’re not using the voice of the consumer.
This is on a micro-geo scale down to an intersection in a neighborhood, and it just didn’t resonate because a lot of people in that area have been forced out because of the increasing cost of property. I mean, it makes you wonder if that … I’ll be honest. Gentrification, I wouldn’t necessarily have assumed all the negative stuff that goes with it, and I’ve used before where I’m like, “Oh.” It was pointed out to me, “Hey … ” Let me give you an example. I described somebody as infamous one time. This is awhile ago, and I just thought, I was stupid, I thought infamous meant more than famous, but it was pointed out to me, infamous actually is a negative thing. It means you’re famous for something pretty bad, that you’re a scoundrel or something like that. I didn’t know. Maybe that’s the case with gentrification, or maybe they just didn’t understand the consumer’s voice.
Erin Jones: I agree, and I think this is really irresponsible of the ad agency. If the owner had made that sign themselves and put it out, I feel like they’d have a little bit more leeway with, “Wow, that was really foolish,” but this is a professional agency that came up with this, and I actually feel like the café owner’s response was even better than the ad agency’s. He just said, “We clearly drank too much of our own product and lost sight of what makes our community great. I’ve used the last 24 hours to listen to your perspectives and better educate myself on gentrification. I’m embarrassed to say that I did not fully appreciate the very real and troubling issue of gentrification and want to sincerely apologize,” and stopped there.
Andy Beal: Yes.
Erin Jones: Not trying to justify his actions, he said, “I didn’t understand this, and you’re right. This was a mistake.” He’s not taking interviews right now. I’d love to see him come out and maybe do something for the community, maybe help find a way that some of the locals can stay in their housing. This neighborhood currently is selling real estate at a rate of over $300 of square foot, so-
Andy Beal: Wow.
Erin Jones: … talking about a real issue with people who can’t afford to stay in their homes, I think some community outreach would be really great right now.
Andy Beal: Last I saw, they hadn’t reopened. If that’s still the case, I would suggest that they don’t reopen until they invite leaders and people that have an understanding of their community and what’s going on with this whole gentrification and how it’s affected those that have low income or on the poverty line and bring them together over a cup of coffee.
Now, don’t publicize the coffee part, don’t turn it into a commercial. Bring people into your coffee shop, sit down with them, and demonstrate to everybody that, hey, you’re not just paying lip service with this apology, you really want to learn from it, and you’re going to do something about it. Do that by bringing in those that have a voice, those that have a stake in the area, and listen to them, and come with a plan that everybody feels comfortable with because then you’ll get them to buy in on it and you’ll get their support when you announce it. They can tell their constituents, their followers, their network that, “Look, we sat down with him. He was sincere, and this is a solution that we think is really going to help to better educate large companies coming in to this area and to get our message across.” That’s what I would do before he reopens.
Erin Jones: I agree. I think that they, as hot button of an issue as this is and how I’m sure they’re terrified to say anything right now, I feel like there’s an excellent opportunity here to make a lot of people feel better about what’s going on in the community.
Andy Beal: Yeah. When you grow large, it is important to have your voice, but not at the expense of the voice of those markets you’re moving into, so take time to understand. Go out, if it’s a small business, go out and meet with the local residents, go out and meet with those that frequent other businesses. If it’s a country or a different state, then you’re going to have a to do a lot more work. It can’t just be you on the street, but it’s important to keep your voice because you need to be authentic, but not at the expense of being deaf to the voice of those that you move into. That’s kind of the reputation lesson at least from my perspective for ink! Coffee, for anybody that’s looking to expand.
All right, well, that’s our show for this week. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. As always, Erin, really enjoy chatting with you.
Erin Jones: Thank you so much. I enjoyed being here.
Andy Beal: That’s our show. Appreciate it. Head to, if you have questions, head to Andy Beal ORM on Facebook or go to andybeal.com, and you can just leave a comment with any question you have, and we hope you’ll catch us again next time. Thanks a lot, and bye-bye.