Samsung Note 7: Why it’s important to control the message

From a PR perspective, it was disheartening that Samsung let a few isolated incidents destroy the good buzz surrounding the Galaxy Note 7.

There’s no denying it is a good phone and some reviewers have even gone so far to say it’s the best phone of 2017. What went wrong with Samsung’s damage control? How could they have done better?
(Just so you know where I’m coming from: I’ve been writing about tech for over a decade, with a few stints in tech PR here and there)
1. Samsung took too long
From the start when reports started circulating about Note 7 issues (software bricking, batteries going boom), Samsung should have at the very least put out a quick statement. Nothing fancy. Just ‘we acknowledge the reports, are looking into it and are taking it very seriously’.
Instead Samsung chose to remain silent, leaving the press to continue reporting on the negative incidents. This is the age of the Internet: there is no breathing time, no saving grace before a publication goes to print
2. Samsung’s customers needed a better explanation
A cursory look at the company’s social media pages show the company could have done a better job explaining the source of the problem. Instead it’s been left to the media and experts to explain to the public what went wrong in the manufacturing process.
That’s not the media’s job; that’s Samsung’s.
3. The absence of positive messaging
Here’s the reality: not all of the Note 7s are affected. Only some units, using a specific battery cell. What should have also gone out is the message that most customers have nothing to worry about but if they have concerns, Samsung will allay them. The negative messaging however has taken over to the point even airlines are wholesale banning all Note 7s, whether or not they are affected. This is terribly unfair to Samsung but the airlines, in the absence of correct information, are doing what is expedient.
4. It should have been about the customers from the very start
One of the biggest failings of the public relations industry is its stubborn approach in always making it about the client first. Sometimes, you have to think a little beyond covering your client’s behind.
Instead of asking ‘how do we control the damage?’, the most important question should have been about the people who keep Samsung alive: the customers. How do we reassure them? How do we let them know we have their best interests at heart?
The good news is that Samsung still has a strong, loyal user base who are loathe to give up their Note 7s. The challenge the company will have in the future is now having to spend additional resources on reassuring their customers that their products are safe. It’s a cautionary tale that in a world where information moves so much faster than we can produce it, you need to work harder than ever to keep your messaging in line…or end up having it blow up in your face.

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