Pizza Hut’s Summer Twinternship: Good Idea? Bad Idea: What Are They Really Up To?

Posted: April 20, 2009 in Crisis, Pizza Hut, PR, Public Relations, Twitter
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

New York Times’ Stephanie Clifford reported this morning that Pizza Hut will be hiring a College Student to Twitter on behalf of this ‘Yum! Foods’ Subsidiary. (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/business/media/20twitter.html?_r=1)

My Take: This is an obvious response to last Domino’s Fiasco. Come on…It’s not just a coincidence; they’re clearly trying to capitalize on their primary competitor’s PR debacle.

But is it a good idea to hire a college student to twitter on behalf of a big multinational brand like Pizza Hut? Can a college student really be trusted as the voice of any company? This isn’t reacting to last week’s social media PR Crisis, it’s practically begging for a repeat! Experienced PR and Communications professionals, can be trained in Twitter vernacular – why the college student? Is this whole thing a PR stunt, in and of itself? I hope for their sake that it is, and that this Twintern can’t just tweet whatever pops into his/her head

Second Mistake: IMHO, there’s no such thing as a “Social Media Campaign” or Twitter Campaign.” An active presence on these platforms is one that must be ongoing, perpetually linked to the brands movements. Not something that should change hands every few months. As Laura Halsch succinctly puts it, it’s a “Good idea to start listening and contributing. What happens to the account when the summer ends though?”

Amber Naslund aka @AmberCadabra says, “You have to start somewhere, and I support baby steps very much. But engaging in SM is a long term thing.

I’m not sure what to say at this point, only because, Pizza Hut’s real intentions are unknown here. If they plan on having a supervisor look over the shoulder of the intern 24/7 – well, what’s the point? If they’re going to trust the intern with the reputation of the company…well, I can’t really bring myself to believe that they would actually do that, given how easy a single tweet can bring down even the most established of brands.

What do you think? Is this a good idea, a step in the right directions? Is Pizza Hut asking for trouble? Are we just not privy to their real, big picture, plan? If that’s the case, please speculate – what do you think they really have in mind?

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Comments
  1. prdude says:

    the connection is obvious to PR folks, but not to the rest of the world. having college kids act as their reps on twitter may prove to be risky. i’m all for sincere convos on twitter and that’s what college kids will bring to the table, but lack of experience may hurt the brand. as you know, there’s creativity involved in conveying a message in under 140 characters. it takes practice. if pizza hut was simply looking for publicity, i would advise them to hire beavis & butthead from domino’s. i hear they’re both looking for a job in the food service business.

  2. gbender26 says:

    I agree that this is a risky move. Pizza Hut is ignoring two of the main benefits of using Twitter as part of a broader communications strategy – building trust/loyalty and monitoring conversations about your brand. This college student clearly won’t be able to convey the appropriate brand image or put out customer service fires like a professional could. Twitter takes time, patience and authenticity. It shouldn’t be taken lightly by companies trying to jump on the “next big thing” – done incorrectly, it will hurt them in the long run.

  3. I’m actually pretty surprised this idea hasn’t come sooner. I think what Pizza Hut (any other company that tries this sort of thing) is trying to do is tap into that ever-elusive world of “digital natives.” While that’s great, I think Pizza Hut may be a little misguided with this. Digital natives and social media interns are great to do the background work of a lot of social media initiatives, but as we all know with interns, there are a couple of inherent problems: (a) Accountability; and (b) Insight and knowledge into the day-to-day workings of a company.

    Pizza Hut’s job listing says that the “Twittern” will have unparalled access to marketing, management and strategic meetings. Really? Are you really going to entrust a 20-year-old intern with information that is most likely sensitive and contains trade secrets? I doubt it.

    Unfortunately, what will most likely happen is this will turn into a ghost Tweeting experiment, IMHO. The intern will get a set of talking points from someone within the Pizza Hut PR office each day, and he or she will be told what to Tweet. “Add some personality and some links to it … keep it snazzy,” they will say. But true transparency on Twitter for an intern of a MAJOR company? I doubt it.

    If Pizza Hut really wants to get actively involved and engaged with its fans on Twitter and other social networking sites (Dear Pizza Hut: Why is this intern’s title and job description only for Twitter? There are a lot more relevant and great social networking sites out there.), then it should follow the lead of its big competitor, Dominos, and have senior-level PR management who are privy to sensitive information actually converse and engage with fans.

  4. tom martin says:

    Agree — PR stunt. I posted my 2 cents over at my blog http://budurl.com/TomMartinPizzaHut but mainly echo a lot of your points above.

    Just feels like a junior PR person with some political PR background came up with “a great idea” and the folks at Pizza Hut didn’t think it through.

    Transparency/Authenticity — rule in SM. Pizza Hut missed the memo I guess.
    @TomMartin

  5. rantonette says:

    Nice discovering your blog today. I’ve posted similar thoughts on my own, fledgling blog site @ http://rantonette.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/on-pizza-and-twitter/.

    The biggest point to me: It’s another example of the trend of professional communicators seeking people who can deliver a tactic, rather than adapting the tactics themselves.

    In the end, only the PR and marketing community are going to be aware of this activity as a stunt, but it speaks volumes about what they think of Twitter as a potential asset.

  6. @jestebanc says:

    Why would posting to Twitter be so hard for a college student? Sure, the largest demog in Twitter is older than 21 but I dare to say there are tons of college students that understand Twitter and would do a great job of tweeting for a major brand. Especially with good guidance, training, information, and suport.

    I mean, McKinsey & Company has interns that create a lot of value for top-notch clients. Why couldn’t a marketing/advertising student not only create good PR for Pizza Hut, but also do it right.

  7. rosie says:

    did you see Julia Roy’s new TweetWeek? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcqTzZzo3hU

    in it she says “sounds more like a VP position, but hmmm. guess we gotta start somewhere” hehe.

    it’s a little scary thinking an intern has this much responsibility, but maybe they can help teach the company… i have more faith in students than i do in most PR companies that are quick to ghost-write.

    of course, they could end up with a disaster that equals the dominos fiasco- who knows!

  8. lisat2 says:

    Ahh..I do like your like your phrase, “a single tweet can bring down the most established of brands”.

    As to Pizza Hut–they have has missed the point completely: Relegating this to a temporary summer intern and with clearly little to no executive oversight, reveals this to be the PR stunt it was intended to be. IN CONTRAST: Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, sets the precedent of authentic use of Social Media everyday. Every employee participates– of course, willingly! Most importantly, Tony participates and leads by example so that even their summer interns will get what’s going on. As to the point that perhaps we should be lenient and nurturant of Pizza Hutt’s baby step into SM: I disagree. These are very sophisticated marketing folks at the helm: Yet they would relegate it to an intern and not put forth that baby step themselves. To put it simply: Is it at all positive to Pizza Hutt Twittering customers to know that their twitters go to a temporary employee? Note that, legally, interns are not allowed to take on responsible roles, aka replace the role of an employee. Ergo,I believe the move is an extremely lame baby step into social media. Perhaps with their Techrity account, they hear these opinions and change their corporate marketing plan on this.

  9. It’s been some time since this was announced and, just last week, The Big Money wrote a story on how the Pizza Hut twintern is doing. She interviewed me, so I wrote a blog post on it this morning (http://bit.ly/YlKjD).

    I agree this is a publicity stunt. Even after a bunch of interns wrote comments on the blog today that they should be taken seriously and that they CAN be the voice of a company, I contend that it takes an instant to ruin a brand.

    Do I think interns should learn how to use social media in a business world? Yes. Do I think interns can add HUGE value in teaching up? Yes. Do I think interns should have a three-month stint as the social media expert? No way!

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