Repost – Intuit’s Leaked Letter to Mint.com: A Lesson in Social Media Reputation Management

Here’s a repost from a blog post I did for e-Storm International (where I work) from two weeks ago about  Intuit PR issue regarding Intuit’s letter inquiring about Mint’s user base.
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Leaking of Intuit’s Letter to Mint.com and the Fallout

This morning, word spread quickly of a legal letter from Intuit asking Mint.com (rival of Intuit’s Quicken) to clarify how they count the number of user they have, declaring that:

“While we do not wish to suggest that Mint.com is engaging in false advertising, the substantial difference in claimed user numbers over a short period time [from 600,000 to 800,000] is of some concern. As a result, we’re requesting that you provide us with the Substantiation and evidence that you rely upon to support the above reference claims… before February 6, 2009″

Of course, such a threatening sounding letter was eventually leaked to the public by TechCrunch. TechCrunch both released the entirety of Intuit’s letter with an article titled “Quicken Cannot Believe Mint Doing So Well; Sends Threat Letter,” where it sarcastically mocks Intuit:

Note that the letter says that Intuit doesn’t “wish to suggest that Mint is engaging in false advertising”, despite the fact that that was the entire purpose of the letter. Nice. [Emphasis Mine]

There was obviously a high level of negative fallout with nearly 400 blog postings (via Google Blog Search) covering Intuit’s letter appearing in a under 24 hours.

So how did Intuit respond?

How did Intuit Respond to their Mint.com Letter? What Are the Takeways?

  1. Documents Will Be Leaked. Do You Have a Plan To Handle When It Happens? These days any document has the potential to be leaked and online; and when it does, it’ll spread quickly. Do you have a plant to respond for such contingencies? The threatening sounding letter from Intuit to Mint.com may well be “traditional legalese”, but once leaked to the public – it took a life of its own.
  2. Be Ready to Respond to Negative Fallout Promptly and Multiple Channels I directly twittered Intuit (http://www.twitter.com/intuit) telling them that I thought they gave publicity for Mint.com at the expense of their brand. Within hours, Intuit responded to my tweet and others personally with a link of their response to TechCrunch’s article.

    Indeed, whenever a potential customer is reaching out and saying something about your brand – that’s an opportunity to address them and win them back. The fact that an Intuit representative replied back personally and promptly with an actual response meant that they knew it was an issue and were addressing it.

  3. Respond Directly, Publicly, Personally…and Give Back When You CanThe founder [Both Mint.com and Intuit have informed it was actually Scott Gulbransen] of Intuit quickly responded to the TechCrunch article – not by releasing an official statement on some forgotten corporate blog, but by writing a clear, non-PR speak response directly on the same TechCrunch article. Some commenters felt that his response fell short, but Scott both apologized for the threatening sound of the letter and also disclosed their own membership numbers. So his response was also an apology and attempt to make amends by disclosing something about themselves.

Conclusion

It is important to remember that when asked about the “ROI of social media” that social media is not single platform, but is a term that covers many different websites – twitter to YouTube to Wikipedia – where people can share information. In some cases, social media websites can help support sales (for example, Dell made $1 million in sales via Twitter) and with others it being a forum for customer service and public relations.

In this case, Intuit’s active response on Twitter and the blog TechCrunch helped addressed negative brand and PR fallout. There are plenty of other cases invovling hard ROI numbers, which will be covered here later on.

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