The Full Story: RYMCO a Social Media Implosion & Redemption

RYMCO is the local dealership for Nissan, Infinity and an array of other brands in Lebanon.
They enjoy an overall positive reputation and have actively conquered a considerable market share due to various tactics and strategic choices, supported by an increasing popularity for the Nissan brand worldwide. Since its Alliance with Renault under the Leadership of French-Lebanese businessman Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has been a brand with vision.

Our story goes back to November 22nd , 2013. RYMCO had launched a massive campaign promoting the Juke a new crossover vehicle. While the car itself is not ugly and might be even labeled as cool by a younger audience, the TV commercial that was devised and aired (way too frequently) was, in my opinion, ill-thought for the following reasons.
  • The ad portrayed reckless driving, even if it was confined inside an underground parking.
  • The car doesn't really show in the ad due to fast motion footage
  • The car's 4x4 capabilities are praised as the driver takes it on top of a very unchallenging, well laid out, nicely painted, gradually increasing in height barrels.
  • Both drivers are over-acting with exaggerated facial expressions
You might not agree with my analysis but this was my view of the ad. It simply felt lame. This opinion was behind the unfortunate series of events that would follow.

You can watch the video here.

As I watched the ad on TV for the Nth time, opinionated as I am, I decided to express my discontent via Twitter by firing up a tweet where I tagged the company in the hope they would get more interested in why their ad seemed annoying to me (and perhaps to several others who shared my opinion).

While I initially thought they would simply ignore me, their community manager, replying at 1 AM, did not take lightly to me being critical of their (his?) ad. It didn't take long for things to spiral out of control into what felt to me like an episode of The Twilight Zone  applied to social media.

The initial exchange on Twitter
RYMCO later deleted their tweets
Their initial reply would have been professional and even disarming, for any critic, had they omitted the last part where they proudly announced: "Actually, we don't care about your opinion". The sheer arrogance behind the replies implied I was either communicating with an amateur or someone who had taken my comments on the ad too personally. This would cast a doubt on whether a seasoned community manager was answering vs someone more implicated in the making of the ad itself. But I speculate...
While I personally could have simply switched off, ignored the brand altogether (even if we were considering them for a car purchase plan) and went on to take my hard earned cash to a brand that would show a bit more respect, I felt that the public and consequently the RYMCO management needed to know about this.
I used the screenshots from above to post on Facebook the following statement.

Public support quickly came pouring in especially from bloggers who immediately took over the story and reported on the lack of professionalism displayed by the person behind the RYMCO account. Top bloggers covered the story by dedicating extensive or shorter posts. I mention specifically:
Several others lent their support by re-tweeting or expression their dislike of how this was handled by the brand. A small minority of popular bloggers however preferred to lay low. While I was surprised by this knowing that they normally would post about anything from a leaf blowing in the wind to a major natural disaster, I understand they might not want to antagonize brands ahead of Freebie  Holiday Season.

What was most ironic was that the same arrogant replies went on through the next morning without any apologetic behavior. It was only around noon that the tone behind the twitter account of the brand changed: a clear sign of someone else taking over and trying to mend things. The offending tweets were deleted (in vain) and someone tried to get creative by trying to spin the incident into a planned setup or mounted stunt aimed at going viral. For a while RYMCO and supporting third parties tried to imply I was in on the stunt.
I WAS NOT! I switfly replied to all tweets suggesting such a thing with a solid denial. Eventually RYMCO started issuing corporate-like statements spread out into 4 tweets
It's been a bumpy ride for Rymco today. Whether staged or not, we would like to genuinely apologize from you @chemali and from all (1)
all followers for this misstep. We believe that brands grow through constructive criticism and feedback, whether concerning (2)
advertisements, products or services. All opinions are welcome. (3)
We would love to extend this apology to a phone call with you @chemali . We would greatly appreciate a DM with your contact details (4)
Although I was still offended they were not completely assuming responsibility by hinting to it "being staged or not", I chose to accept the stretched out olive branch and exchanged it with my 8-digit contact number. Ten minutes later, to my surprise, on the other end of the line was Mr Fayez Rasamny, RYMCO's own Chairman.  (RYMCO stands for "Rasamny Younis Motor Co.").

I will naturally not disclose the details of my conversation with Mr Rasamny. But what I can share is this:
We had a very open, sincere and friendly conversation. I have always had huge respect for leaders that step up and make things right when someone in their crew messes up. It's this attitude that can make or break a company. I am glad to see that whatever behavior I was subject to did not reflect RYMCO's corporate values.
Further to this phone call I tweeted once more confirming that things were resolved. After all credit needs to be given where credit is due.

In conclusion, a few words of advice: If you are a marketing manager, a communication manager or simply a person entrusted with a brand's social presence always be aware of the following:
  1. When you engage people from the brand's account, there is no room for personal ego. You represent the brand and as such are liable to portray it as the brand has chosen itself to be positioned.
  2. Social Media became a runaway hit because it allowed a two-way communication channel between brands and customers. If you are going to tell a fan/follower that you don't care about their opinion, whether directly or indirectly, you might as well close your social channels and go back to doing billboards.
  3. "When you're in a hole...stop digging". If you have already messed up and you know it. Don't aggravate the situation by refusing to acknowledge your mistakes and pursuing down the same path. Sometimes fans are willing to give you a break, learn how to take it.
  4. Apologizing is essential. It says a lot about your maturity as a brand. Taking ownership of one's mistakes is the first step towards fixing them. Do NOT wait until you have been cornered to apologize. It ends up sounding so much less sincere. Make your apologies as soon as you realize your mistake and make it count.
  5. Criticism can be harsh, opinionated and perhaps even unfounded. Use the criticism to discover the angles that you may have missed. Accepting criticism and asking about why it came to happen is a sure way to address weaknesses in your business and improving them. Social Media offers a fast and efficient means to do it. Use it!
Finally, since, I am writing this post right in the middle of the End-of-Year Holidays, I wanted to close on a positive note with a beautifully conceived card by RYMCO which I gladly re-tweeted just recently.


Stand Out...Of My Way

Nowadays, so many of us go on a perpetual quest to acquire additional skills, hoping to stand out from the crowd. I guess this is only normal as we live in a society that idolizes celebrities and socialites, and frequently shuns those who choose to perform away from the noise and hassle of the public eye.
This has sprung many into developing a business model that relied on delivering soft skills or people skills for those seeking that extra edge.

How do I fit in all this?

As an adept of the fine art of knowledge transfer, I always found myself drawn towards opportunities where I could act as a trainer, a facilitator, a speaker. Knowledge sharing is in its own merit is a learning experience.

This specific entity I collaborated with not long ago, portrayed itself as a dynamic professional team that lived what they preached and preached what they lived. They looked as transparent, open, systematic as they could be, constantly running round tables and introspection sessions where everybody seemed like they truly enjoyed helping each other out.

I plunged into this universe and took it upon me to create and re-write workshop material, enrich slide deck content and optimize the delivery methods. Results came quickly with praise and positive ratings from corporate and individual attendees of my workshops alike.
At some point, I was even asked to take a pass on a university teaching opportunity as my involvement in the workshops they planned to offer was both increasingly necessary and forecasted to grow...and I bought into all that.

Fool me once, shame on you...

A few months later, one disappointment was piling over another. My quota of workshops unlike my ratings was decreasing constantly. Travel plans fell through for unclear reasons. Even the initial financial agreement was not entirely respected. Eventually, my freedom to deliver workshops in the style that I always had used became suddenly subject to scrutiny and comments over factors that had no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the workshop and the satisfaction of the attendees. (see. Bullying101)

Things added up and it did not require me to be the lead character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle epic novel to discover that  my entire involvement was used to fill their gap in knowledge and resources. Colleagues that had asked to attend my workshops as guests were actually there to pry, copy, learn the extra info that existed only in what I delivered verbally. That information could not be deducted from my slide decks because, simply, it was not there.

Openness, transparency and management by objectives were nothing more than a honeypot to attract qualified individuals into this setup (pun intended)
This was a closely knit group that systematically attracted outside skills to improve itself, only to later bully those very same talents away when they were no longer crucial to the operation.

After all why pay an external facilitator while they could split the revenues among them?
Why attend expensive training seminars when you get someone to spoon-feed you the material while bringing in revenue to the business?

Needless to say, my exit was swift and determined. I had no intention of wasting any energy anymore on such endeavors. I felt cheated but I was not bitter. My instincts had been warning me all along that something was wrong and I had failed to listen.

The Takeaway...

I may have lost time and effort collaborating with these individuals but I did not walk away empty handed.
Here's my advice on collaborating as a team member with any of the many training & facilitation centers out there:

  1. Find out who their team members are then check out their credentials
  2. Find out if it's a family operated business (not just family owned) or if they are all previously acquainted aside from currently being colleagues
  3. Try to find people who collaborated with them before and ask them why they left
  4. Secure the number of workshops and frequency in your contract
  5. Secure the financial part in your contract
  6. Make sure that efforts employed in improving their syllabus are remunerated or maintain a clause that prevents them from taking ownership of work you did on the material without you getting paid for it.
  7. Do not accept other facilitators as guests (unless paid extra for that, and handsomely if I may ad)
  8. When you get another opportunity take it, if they care enough about keeping you with them they'll offer to pay extra.


Social Media Fail by Alfa Telecom

As I sat in the auditorium watching someone present a really uninteresting piece of software, I could not help but check my twitter timeline.

It was on March 19th right before the ArabNet Beirut event. Alfa Telecommunications, one of Lebanon's two (duopole) mobile operators had been trying to boost their twitter following after their direct competitor Touch had overtaken them.

I cannot speculate whether this heightened interest in getting more followers had been instigated by me reaching out to some very high "powers that be" within Alfa pointing out how badly their social media is being run.
I had been part of the original staff that worked at Cellis which later became Alfa and I felt bad to see them trailing behind Touch after I had personally and single handedly launched them into social way ahead of their competition.

A first infographic sent on Jan 20th 2012 after Touch had debuted on Social Media

Without digressing further, Alfa was giving away valuable tickets to attend ArabNet to its follower base. A normal and fair practice that normally gets you to do something engaging in return for a prize.

What was not normal for me was to see the community manager behind the twitter account attributing the ticket to one of alfa's own employees.

I easily recognized the name based on my long period working there but I was not about to let my past relationship with Alfa cloud my sense of Right and Wrong.
Someone was taking the public for a ride. Whether it was intentional and malicious or simply oblivious it did not matter any more.
Using the most basic cognitive reasoning techniques I compiled the following image and fired a tweet at our dynamic and twitter-active Minister of  Telecommunication Mr Nicolas Sehnaoui

The person on the left was confirmed as an employee.
The person on the right was an unfortunate coincidence and resemblance

The tweet went viral quickly and people tweeted back at Alfa expressing their discontent. Bloggers also took over the story with posts appearing on Plus961 and Blog Baladi

Alfa eventually took corrective measures in a format that suggested they were as surprised as everybody else by the fact that the winner was their own employee (even though his twitter bio pointed to linkedin where his job at alfa was prominently stated).

In retrospect, being caught with their hand in the jar could have been the best thing to have happened to Alfa as all other maneuvers were falling flat on their face. This made many people realize that the number 2 operator was on twitter and perhaps made Alfa realize that social media was serious business.
Billboards, TV commercials, brochures and the occasional sponsoring tactics were no longer enough to make themselves noticed. And this time the people could shout back their opinions.

Welcome to the era of Social Media Marketing!

At the time this post was written Alfa still had  46799 followers versus Touch with 70617 followers

Business in Lebanon Infographic

Business in Lebanon by Patrick Chemali
Inititally Posted on March 6th 2013 on Facebook
If you were to ask me now, I probably would not be able to pinpoint the exact event that prompted me back on March 6th, 2013 to create this infographic.

I promise you, it is not due to the fact that I suffer from a poor memory, but rather to the onslaught of a multitude of incidents that any of which could qualify as the trigger.

Doing business in Lebanon works...in mysterious ways. So I discovered after my transition from the corporate to the retail world.
In spite of a fruitful year in 2012 running a very young startup (Sharp Lemon), I was continuously frustrated by practices that often plague the daily business scene in Lebanon.
Some might argue that I am not adapted for the big challenges that such a dynamic over-crowded marketplace poses. I agree! I only know how to sell straight!

This does not make the contents in my infographic less true. Of course I did over-simplify it, made it more though provoking (some say provocative) but I have never been one to gently cuddle the ego of the masses.

All businesses suffer from what I highlighted above. Some survive in-spite of such practices, others by using these very practices and following it up with "Hayda Lebnen" (i.e. This is Lebanon) as part of a one-size-fits-all justification.

It's worth mentioning that the infographic recently stirred some people up when I reposted it on twitter and my good friend Tarek dedicated a post to it on his hugely popular Beirut/NTSC blog.

Some accused me of useless bashing, of degrading our image as Lebanese in the eyes of the world.
I am not sure if they did it out of their enthusiasm, youth and love of the country or if, perhaps, it struck a chord making it too close for comfort. To each his own...meanwhile this remains my point of view!

The Mandatory First Post

This is a Post About Nothing!
(if I may borrow Jerry Seinfeld's Nothing Pitch)

It's not a post about why I decided to blog, because I still didn't figure out how serious I am about this.
It's not a post about why you should read this blog, although I hope some of you actually do.
It's not a post about why I am not taking up blogging in hope of getting freebies from brands.

This is a mandatory first post because as East-Mediterranean Orientals we can never cut to the chase and are always compelled to fluffy things up with introductions.

There I did it...move along folks, nothing much to see here.