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Hasbro’s Tough Decision – Social Bullying and the Opportunity for Goodwill

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This was originally posted directly to LinkedIn, but it’s an interesting story for anyone, so we’re posting it to the blog too. There was some great followup in the comments on the original article, so if you’re interested, head over there too.


 

If you haven’t heard, John Spinello, creator of the children’s game “Operation” is in need of his own medical assistance. His friends are crowdfunding for that assistance.

This video shows that John, although compensated for his invention, got a bit of a raw deal and doesn’t benefit from royalties which explains why his friends are asking for support on his behalf. And they’re only asking for what many consider a paltry $25,000.

What do you think is happening in the land of social media right about now?

I wouldn’t call it a revolt, but it’s fair to say Hasbro, the true beneficiaries of Mr. Spinello’s invention, are feeling some pressure.

Here’s an active Twitter search showing relevant messages to an official Hasbro Twitter account and a screenshot of some posts from when this all happened:

Tweets

As you can see, the messages are relatively respectful, at least by social media standards, but they also get pretty pushy. There’s plenty on Facebook too:

facebook2

Of course, Hasbro has no obligation to help Mr. Spinello, but it’s clear from the media spin and public messages that many people think the company should help. Several, myself included, point out the positive PR it could generate, and my guess is that we’ll see Hasbro step up within the week… just as soon as they have a proper press release put together. It’s just too good an opportunity to pass up, especially considering the relatively small amount of money involved. By the way, at time of writing, the amount raised is already over $16K, so I don’t doubt the public would step up even if Hasbro does not. [Update: by the time I published this post, it went up another $1K, and by the next morning, it had passed the final $25K goal!]

So here’s the rub. If the folks at Hasbro don’t help out, they’ll definitely hear more about it from every Operation fan with an email address and a hand steady enough to type. If they do help, it’ll reinforce the idea that they can be bullied. And if there’s anything we’ve learned in the last several years of social media’s ubiquity, it’s that companies CAN be bullied.

This is an emotionally charged issue without any weird polarizing political slant, so the decision seems pretty easy to me. They should just do it. I suspect some people will then push harder, suggesting Hasbro start paying Mr. Spinello royalties (or cover his medical bills for life, pay his medical insurance, etc), but if they make a reasonable offer to assist out of the gate, they can easily ignore those people and remain the helpful hero in the eyes of the majority.

[Another update: it looks like Hasbro has been pretty awesome, maybe even quietly awesome from beginning, which is about as incredible as anything a company in its position could be. John was planning to auction off his original prototype, and Hasbro has purchased it from him for an undisclosed, but mutually agreeable, price.]

But what if it weren’t such a clear opportunity to do the right thing? Companies are getting pushed so much by the public these days, sometimes in opposing directions, that it’s hard to know what to do. Recently we’ve seen numerous examples of companies dropping sponsorships due to public pressure, and there’s not always a clear winner. Not long ago, Intel pulled sponsorship of Gamasutra over an article about the very confusing ‘GamerGate’ situation, and they were apparently so confused about the issue and why they were taking action that they later apologizedfor doing it. It goes to show just how much pressure companies feel to avoid scandal and act quickly. I suppose I can’t blame them – their inboxes get exponentially bigger with every minute and every new blog post that’s written.

  • What’s the right move when you find your company in this situation?
  • Is your organization in a position to pull minds together quickly, accurately assess the situation, and make a decision? Do you have an official process for doing so?
  • Are you worried that responding to public pressure makes you more susceptible to pressure in the future?

These are all important things to consider, especially these days, when social uprisings aren’t just a fear but an expectation.

My advice

In any situation, acting rashly is a bad idea. You should aim to act quickly, but you should never take action without understanding the situation. If you don’t think you have a strong grasp of what’s going on in the eyes of the public, don’t be afraid to ask. It may have happened, but I’m not aware of any company taking heat from the public and simply asking “Hey, everyone… can we get in touch with some of you to chat about this in more detail?”

If you understand what’s really going on, you can stand behind your decision. That said, if the facts change, you might need to reverse your position. There’s no shame in that as long as your reasoning is sound and you communicate publicly about why you acted the way you did.

Transparency won’t give you immunity from criticism, but it goes a tremendously long way in building and mending relationships. Staying quiet, on the other hand, will undoubtedly hurt because the assumption of corporate greed causes the public to assume the worst and break out the pitchforks.

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