Tim Horton’s and Facebook – A Case Study of Lost Opportunity

this post was also posted on Social Sphere Strategies

For the past six months, we have been recommending to clients, potential clients and anyone unlucky enough to sit next to one of us at a dinner party that all businesses need to do the following:

1. Get smart – find a way to get senior executives aware of the philosophy and applications of Web 2.0, including how other leading businesses are beginning to use 2.0 to collaborate with employees, business partners and customers.
2. Look around and listen in – audit competitors’ web sites and the greater web to see if others in your industry have embraced Web 2.0 and what your customers and employees may be saying about your business on the web.
3. Authentically interact – if your brand is being discussed within an existing community, assign someone the responsibility of interacting with the community so your side of the story gets out.
4. Activate your stakeholder communities – we believe all businesses have at least an internal sphere opportunity to use Web 2.0 to proactively engage their employees in creating business value and most also have partner and customer opportunities.

We often get push back along the following lines, “I know all about Facebook, my kids spend all their time there. But that’s because they don’t have jobs and mortgages. There is no way they’ll be able to spend that kind of time on-line when they are adults. This whole thing is a fad.” To this we usually respond with a non Facebook Web 2.0 personal example. Mine is often around an experience I had recently trying to find after market running boards for my Lexus 400h SUV by looking for a user group on the manufacturer’s web site. When that attempt was unsuccessful, I went to Edmunds.com. Although I found a user group for my vehicle, it was sponsored by competing SUV ads. By not hosting a user community, Lexus had driven me to their competitors’ ads.

Last week, a better example of the importance of understanding and embracing Web 2.0 was reported in the National Post in an article about the Canadian coffee and donut chain Tim Horton’s, “Tim Horton’s employees lay down rules for cranky customers.”
Tim Horton’s is the “Dunkin Donuts of Canada.” Their stores are ubiquitous and the product a cultural phenomenon (Horton was a Canadian hockey star). A reporter for the National Post – a Canadian nationwide business paper – found over 500 Facebook groups related to Tim Horton’s and chose to focus on one with 3,400 members called Tim Hortons Rules of Ordering and More which features employees and former employees complaining about customers. The group is described as:
“This is for everyone who gets fed up with people who don’t know what they want, and for workers who have to put up with this everyday. If people would just listen to these rules when ordering the world will be a better place,”

The Post reported that the “80 rules or so spell out how to make your visit to Tim’s more efficient: ‘When you want a coffee with no sugar, do not say no sugar it sounds like your saying one sugar” or ‘If you don’t say you want anything in your coffee don’t expect to get anything in it, we can’t read your mind’ and ‘Stop telling us to stir it well there is no button on the cash register for that.’ ”

The article continued “But the coffee slingers are not the only ones airing their beefs on Facebook. Frustrated clients also have their support groups such as Tim Hortons Screws up my Order Every Time and Tim Hortons Service Sucks.”

Although the reporter focused the bulk of her article on the negative aspects of this particular group, she did report “But there is a silver lining for Tim Hortons employees. Many Facebook groups, like Addicted to Tim Hortons, are very positive and they seem to always have time for Tim Hortons.”

Apparently unaware of what was on Facebook, Tim Horton’s PR did not return reporters calls. It appears Tim Horton’s didn’t invest the resources to “listen in” to what was being said about their brand on the web.

Imagine how different this could have been if Tim Horton’s executives were (a) aware of what was being said about their brand on the web and (b) embraced an employee community.
If the company had been monitoring Facebook, they would have found that some of the largest groups are actually positive ones – Tim Horton’s for Our Troops – has 16, 965 members and encourages people to send gift certificates to members of the armed services. There are actually 3 “addicted to Tim Horton’s” groups which total over 15,000 members and “Tim Horton’s is like a religion to me” has over 1,900 members. The application “We Love Tim Horton’s!” described as “The best coffee ever! Fans of Timmys can now send Double Doubles, Tim Bits, Steeped Tea, Cruellers, Iced Cappucinos & lots more to your friends! For Canadian and US Coffee Lovers everywhere!” has over 84,000 daily users. Keep in mind that Tim Horton’s is largely a Canadian company and that there are roughly 1/10th as many Canadians as Americans, so you can multiply these numbers by 10 to get an idea of how large their Facebook following is.

Redirecting the reporter to these facts would probably been a better response that not returning her calls.

Although many will see the cost of this article as at least a minor PR challenge, we see a greater cost in the missed (but not necessarily lost) opportunity to have engaged the employee sphere to help address the very real problem of customers that can be hard to serve. The fact that so many of Tim Horton’s employee (and customers) have written about their experiences – both positive and negative – is a clear sign of a very engaged community. You need look no further than this week’s post from the group’s administrator:

I just want to let everyone know that just because I made the group certainly doesn’t mean I hate my job. Personally, I love my job. I like the people I work with and the regulars that come in every shift …If I wanted to disrespect my job would have made a group called “I hate my job, Tim Horton’s sucks” but I didn’t. … And yes, I still have my job there.”

Management could have asked employees to create funny videos explaining how to order more efficiently, done “best and worst” customer stories, etc. Employees and customers could have rated the stories. Product or customer bingo and Tim Horton’s trivia games could have been created and challenge matches forwarded to friends.

So, the questions for those of you who still think Facebook, blogs and wiki’s are for your kids or a fad that will surely fade are:

1) What’s being said about your company on the web?
2) Will you be ready to take a reporter’s call or unavailable for comment?

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