CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

by Ken Mueller on March 5, 2012 · 39 comments

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CVS (Photo credit: mobilene)

Sometimes things just go right and everything falls into place. Perhaps your video goes viral, or a campaign gets more attention than you expected, and you reap the benefits of what some might refer to as “the perfect storm.”

It’s also called catching lightning in a bottle.

But this past weekend, CVS seems to have gotten struck by lightning in what seems to be an incredibly imperfect confluence of events.

I was researching CVS’s social media presence for another blog post when I stumbled upon what appears to be a real mess for the pharmacy chain, and is just one more in an increasing number of social media crises being weathered by companies that seem to have been caught off guard.

First, let me state that CVS has seems to have done a lot of the right things up until this point. They have a rather robust and active Facebook page with nearly 900,000 fans. And their “talking about this” metric is actually quite high, though we need to remember when people are “talking about” us, our goal is to have them talking positively, not negatively.

cvs talking about this CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

Additionally, they are working hard to get customers to connect with them more online, particularly via their Rewards Card program. Let me also say that I’m a rather frequent CVS customer, and have enjoyed their deals and service over the years, though I am by no means particularly brand loyal. I’ll do my shopping for prescriptions and other items wherever I feel I can get the best deal.

Here are the events as I’ve seen them unfold over the past few days:

1. A CVS store in New Jersey mistakenly distributed a breast cancer drug to parents thinking they were getting flouride pills for their children – The story hit the national media quickly on Saturday, and a news search for CVS on Google prominently displays the story right at the top:

CVS news CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

People begin commenting and posting articles about this on the CVS Facebook wall throughout the weekend, but while the company issued an official statement about the mix up, they never posted the statement on either their Facebook page or their website (as far as I could tell, and I searched for quite some time).

2. This all happened while CVS is running a campaign to have users tell “My CVS Pharmacist Story” – The Facebook page is promoting this campaign, including a landing tap, offering a discount coupon in exchange for sharing a story about your favorite CVS pharmacist:

my cvs story1 CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

The purpose of the campaign is to crowdsource and personalize the chain by letting people share their positive stories about their local pharmacist.  Needless to say, when CVS promoted this contest on Friday, they got comments, but many of them were negative.

cvs my pharmacy story CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

Then when the above story broke, comments about the mix up in New Jersey were included.

Additionally, quite a few users complained that the mechanism for entering the promotion wasn’t working, and that they hadn’t received their coupons.

Again, no response to any of the comments from CVS.

3. CVS was testing a new type of print ad in several markets – When the company posted a “sneak peek” of the weekend ads on Thursday, many people clicked only to discover something very different. When you click on the link, it takes you to the ad for the CVS Stores in your market; the same insert that you get in your Sunday paper. The test ad was a one page insert which apparently featured one 20% off coupon for non-sale items, and the regular sales in those areas would not start until Wednesday, rather than on Sunday as usual. People were not amused, and the comments came in.

cvs ad comments CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

And when others in those test markets received their Sunday paper with the smaller insert, they took their complaints to Facebook, and again, there was a lot of negativity in the air (including one unrelated, yet negative, accusation).

cvs CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

Now, I’m a very forgiving person. Many of the negative comments I saw were rather nasty, with people threatening to never shop at CVS again. CVS did say that this was merely a “test”, and in my mind, that means they should be cut some slack. I’m assuming that since it is a test, the feedback they receive on Facebook, and through other channels, will be considered alongside other metrics as to whether they expand this test program to other markets. I won’t pretend to know what their criteria might be, but I would assume that somewhere at the top of the list would be sales numbers. It will be interesting to see how they address this.

But yet again, as the negative comments rolled in, no one from CVS seemed to be monitoring the Facebook page, or if they were, they were not responding. And people were certainly noticing the lack of response:

cvs comments1 CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend

Not the best of weekends for the folks at CVS.

There are a few lessons to be learned here:

1. Even when things seem to be going smoothly, you must be prepared for a crisis – The instance of dispensing wrong drugs at one pharmacy went national very fast. People will be concerned, and you need to not only respond, but respond accordingly. If people are talking about it on Facebook, then by all means, respond on Facebook. This is both the beauty and the curse of social media.

2. Monitor at all times – More important than engaging is making sure you are monitoring your brand. If your stores are open on weekends, and news is being reported on weekends, you can’t treat your social presence like a 9-5, Monday through Friday proposition. Many CVS stores are open 24 hours. People are online 24 hours. Bad things can happen at any time, so you need to be prepared. This may not sound reasonable for a small, local business, but a national chain should be on top of this.

3. Respond – Social media is about being social. It’s not just another means for pushing out messages. People will comment and post on your wall, and they expect a response. This is the social media world in which we live. If you are monitoring, you must respond to what you see, even if you don’t have all the answers. Just let people know you are listening to their concerns and are looking into things. Explain your actions. Answer questions. And if your company issues a statement, make sure you post it in the appropriate places. If you don’t respond, people will notice, and they’ll just comment more. You cannot think that by ignoring them they will go away.

4. Be careful of automation – I don’t know the answers on this, but CVS was posting on their wall throughout the weekend. My guess is that this might have been done through scheduled posts via a third-party app. This sort of thing can be useful for posting things on weekends or off hours, but if you do this, you need to be prepared. Again, you need to monitor and respond. And in some cases you might need to unschedule some previously scheduled posts. When CVS posts about a special photo offer on Sunday, after not responding to comments throughout the weekend, it appears as if they are there, but are ignoring the comments.

5. Social media is more about customer service than it is marketing – Those business that approach social media first and foremost as a marketing tool are doomed to fail. We, as consumers, are not on social platforms in order to hear your sales pitch. They are there to communicate with you on a two-way street. Customer service must come first, and then the marketing aspect will follow. But if you are merely pushing out your sanitized message, people will not be happy.

6. Problems can happen on multiple levels – While the dispensing of incorrect meds was the most serious issue CVS faced, it affected the smallest number of people, but had the greatest impact across the web. While there appeared to be no ill-effects from the mix up, the results could have been disastrous, and you can bet CVS is using this to address a number of issues internally.

As I write this on Sunday evening, the story continues. Thankfully, it does NOT appear as if any comments or posts from others have been deleted, but there has been nothing but silence coming from the company. I’ll be interested to see how it is dealt with, if at all, once the weekend is over.

What’s your view of what happened to CVS over the weekend?

 

 CVS Has a Rough Social Media Weekend
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37 comments
MarlaGee
MarlaGee

@kmueller62 Sometimes the best example is a horrible example of what NOT to do.

kmueller62
kmueller62

@JuliaOMurphy thanks for sharing, Julia!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Sigh

 

This reminds me when I contacted frito lay explaining the Doritos page was filled with porn links in the comments and they said 'We have an agency taking care of our page' and I said 'No you don't' LOL

 

There is no excuse today for ignorance when it comes to social media. Back in 2008 Fox News launched Fox Nation facebook page. And they were very far right in posts and claims. So I would post often saying 'Jesus would never take that position of favoring rich over poor, or starting wars etc' (i hate hypocrites). and i would get banned from commenting. So I would unlike. Then Like and be free to post. They then shut down comments for a long time (haven;t been to the page since 2009). So when they launched their G+ page they stuck to news (smart people) vs politics.

 

My point being we have 3-4 years of corporate use/history and no reason for a fortune 500 company to goof like this. And CVS is I believe fortune 25. I am pretty confident @cbaccus would never let this happen on his watch for his company. Because he is smarter than the average bear.

Maranda
Maranda

I would agree, Ken, that CVS should be cut some slack as they did announce there was a "test" market. However, I think when it comes to this specific case, you have to look at the perception of CVS as a whole.  I used to frequent the CVS pharmacy quite often and always took advantage of some of the great deals. That stopped after repeated bad

experiences with their pharmacy staff - leading me to take my business elsewhere. 

The whole thing reminds me a lot of the McDonald's situation a few weeks ago with the #McDstories tag on Twitter. It's the risk you take when actively starting to campaign on social media, but you have to be prepared for a blow back. A lot of people will make the decision to continue doing business with you based on how well you respond to a crisis and not necessarily how well you promote your business. 

krisbradley74
krisbradley74

This mess that CVS is going through reminds me of the disgraceful way that @abc27News in Harrisburg handled the power outages during the PSU vs Northwestern football game late in 2011.  Via social media people were asking questions, voicing their opinion and the only response was on their website forum (towards the end of the game I dare say) from somebody who you could tell really didn't want to deal with the situation.  

 

What made it 100x's worse was when I read in the newspapers later the following week where they said that they were on their social media sites addressing peoples concerns.  Lying in that situation will get you no where.  All you had to do is go back to Saturday and see their lack of tweets.  Thanks for sharing this Ken.

kmueller62
kmueller62

@brianofshope thanks for the RT, Brian!

Cris Swaters
Cris Swaters

As someone who coupons diligently, I will agree that the one-page ad is AWFUL and I pray that it does not hit any markets in southwest Missouri.From a PR and social media lover's perspective, this is a big, fat fail. If you're going to have social media, you better be prepared to handle the positive and the negative. You would think that a company as large as CVS would have a marketing or PR person with enough sense to know that ignoring the negative comments on any social media has disaster written all over it. 

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

Excellent roundup, Ken. I am hoping these crises won't become par for corporations and they stop caring. Can you see that happening? Feels like this is happening way too frequently at the corporate level. Why is that? Too many layers, departments, agencies not connecting? Not nimble enough to respond?

 

Someone has to pull back on the reins and take control. It's a mess. Thanks for the link love!

MarkJMuellerJr
MarkJMuellerJr

As a CVS employee, I try not to be too vocal about my place of employ through social outlets because of corporate policies and negative connotations about things that I may post, but I feel it is necessary at this time to let people know that I work for the company. Now, granted, I am not a high up corporate big whig, but I do work at store level and I do know the inter workings of all aspects of the store. If the CVS company will not speak I will speak on their behalf. Repercussions here I come!

 

I spend a lot of time in the pharmacy and one things that people don't realize is that there are many moving parts.  A prescription has several stops before it gets to your hands. Not only does it have several places to be corrected, it has several places for mistakes to be made. I am certain that this is not the first time that the wrong drugs were dispensed, but I can pretty much assume that this is the first time someone went to the media about it. When I work in the pharmacy, there are a couple times during the day when the pharmacist throws something back over the counter to be rechecked by a tech because it is not exactly right. It may not always be a wrong medication situation, but several times a day a tech will have to  double check something. The reason I am saying all this is for complete transparency. People are human, we make mistakes. Majority of the mistakes don't leave the store. 

 

When it comes down to it, and if someone decides to tell a My CVS Pharmacist story, don't make negative comments for a situation that didn't happen to you. It's not just good manners, but it boils down to pure integrity. You didn't get the wrong pills, someone else did. Let them deal with the situation. Keep loving CVS the way you have in the past. One pharmacist at one store has nothing to do with your local CVS. We employ great and knowledgable pharmacists who graduate from top schools (both of mine are UNC grads). Let them do their job and let CVS deal with the situation as we see fit.

 

As for the one page flyer, I cannot speak to that because it was not released in my market and I don't know what the motives are for it. I can only assume that they are trying to get people to buy less sale items by promoting our great coupons at the same time. As a company, CVS does a great job giving back to the customer. We have the best coupon program of any chain that I know of. No other chain, that I can think of, gives you back a percentage of what you have spent to keep your business. 

 

As a company, CVS is doing a lot right. Sometimes the bad outshines the good and that's what has happened over this weekend. 

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

This was really interesting, Ken. I was not aware of this confluence of events for CVS over the weekend. My employer is a not for profit and it is not unusual to get comments on social media from people who are unhappy about various aspects of our program (premiums are based on income and there are other things about which people are sometimes upset, as is the case with any product). Although social media is not my resposibility at the organization, as a social media enthusiast I am in the minority trying to convince the leadership that these comment provide an opportunity educate and create satisfaction.

Cris Swaters
Cris Swaters

 @Maranda I agree. While a lot of consumers in the test market areas really blew things out of proportion, - I can guarantee the majority of the negative comments are from extreme couponers who want their ECB ads back - CVS really should have a better social media response plan. By not responding they are eliminating the transparency that social media gives organizations and automatically making people think they have something to hide.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @krisbradley74 Thanks for stopping by, Kris. Social  media is an all-in proposition. Either do it or don't. You can't do half the job.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @Cris Swaters One would think that, Cris, but this is happening with a lot of brands. Head on over to Spin Sucks and see some of the case studies Gini has had, in particular Carnival Cruise Lines. When you don't prepare, you end up getting caught off guard, and for many, they like to go into ignore mode and stick their head in the sand. Hopefully this is a wake up call and they'll make the necessary changes. Otherwise, this will happen again. 

 

And I just checked back, and people are still commenting (though it has slowed down a bit) and yet there is still no response. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing I just think we're in a place where they haven't figured out what to do. I don't think they'll stop caring, because they can't afford to. CVS is in a highly competitive field, going up against Walgreens, Rite Aid, and others. They can't afford to ignore their customers, because the loyalty level on a brand like this can't be very high. People choose these types of stores based on a combination of customer service, location, and pricing. Where I live, I have access to all three of these chains, and more, and in fact I have at least 4 CVS stores within fewer than two miles of my house.  We have options, and when we have options, we are quick to go elsewhere when you piss us off. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @ginidietrich If you can't address one issue, how will you address two or three? Very unprepared.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @MarkJMuellerJr I agree, Mark, which is why I pointed out that I shop at CVS and like CVS and have never had a bad experience. Still curious to see how this works out over the next few days as they figure out how they will respond, if at all. Silence would be the worst thing for them.

anond
anond

 @biggreenpen I hadn't heard about CVS either, but I think it's because the Limbaugh story was the bigger social media event of the past week. Thousands of people have been taking to social media to tell the companies that financially support him that he has gone too far for the last time. Looks like about 1500 CVS stories in Google News vs. 12000+ Limbaugh stories.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @biggreenpen I just happened to stumble on it yesterday, and checking this morning, people are still complaining, and there has been no response at all from anyone at CVS. I would imagine they'll be in meetings today deciding what to do.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @Cris Swaters  @Maranda Basically they a) weren't prepared, and b) dropped the ball. I think A is somewhat excusable, but not B

Cris Swaters
Cris Swaters

 @KenMueller I completely agree. So far, 2012 has been a gold mine for extreme examples of social media dos and don'ts.Wow. I'm almost impressed by their ability to not respond. Their Facebook page and bloggers are blowing up (in the sense that there is now a lot of criticism), and have been for a while, and they have still not gotten the conversations back under control. I'm interested to see what their crisis plan and response criteria are. It seems that they don't have those things and are ignoring the problem because they have gone so far out of control that they don't know what to do.

Soulati | Hybrid PR
Soulati | Hybrid PR

 @KenMueller Fascinating...who made the call to put so many CVS in one vicinity? I wonder if that's a retailing fail right there. Counter the corner competitor with yet another unnecessary pharmacy/grocer/junk store. Then, each of these boxes are responsible for training front-line sales/customer service to establish a reputable brand.

 

What I said is somewhat off topic to your post, but it is worth a look at all these factors, for sure.

MarkJMuellerJr
MarkJMuellerJr

 @ginidietrich Thanks Gini, I talked about this with @KenMueller yesterday and figured I would put up my thoughts on the matter so everyone could see because it needed to be said. Even if it was from a lowly store level employee.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @anond  @biggreenpen That's the thing with social media. it's very easy to get drowned out in mainstream media when a "bigger" story comes along, but in the social world, many stories can occur at the same time on individual Facebook walls, or Twitter. 

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Well, one of them is brand new. And the way our city is laid out, it makes sense. Several are city, several are suburbs. It gives us more options because we're in the middle, but there are other folks on the other side of each of them where the one particular CVS would theoretically be their best option. None of them are hurting for business, that's for sure. Always crowded.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

 @MarkJMuellerJr  @ginidietrich Yeah, I guess this is where I admit...er...disclose...that Mark is my nephew. And after I had written this piece I called him just to see if he was aware of any of this going on. I'll be interested if he hears anything from "corporate" when he goes in to work today.

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