If you want to see a preview of how reputation battles will be fought in the near future, just look at Oxfam vs. Starbucks. Oxfam posted a video on YouTube on December 16 that vigorously attacked Starbucks for its policies relating to Ethiopian farmers. They showed a number of on the street interviews with people who were shocked at Starbucks terrible policies–using of course the information that the activists had provided them. (This in itself is a very troubling and unethical approach–give people misinformation and then ask them what they think about it and then put them on camera denouncing the horrible company).
Starbucks responded on December 20 with their response to the accusations with a video posted on YouTube. It was not slickly produced. Not nearly as intensely produced and edited as the Oxfam video because frankly, the people making the accusation have a lot more time to produce than those responding. But Starbucks responded quickly and effectively. They took the accusations straight on. No anger. No defensiveness. Just corrected the wrong information and the overly simplistic accusations.
And it was all done on YouTube. What does the blog world think of this? Here’s a comment from a blogger on slashdot: Regardless of the outcome of this particular incident, the move on Starbucks’ part comes off as unmistakably in touch with today’s communication modes and methods.”
I agree. Starbucks gets it. And Oxfam and other activists had better take note of a basic and increasingly important law of public information: credibility is everything. From this observer’s point of view, their credibility is quite low right now.