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.

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