All Apologies

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What else should I be? All apologies.

Sony is going to have a very long haul over the next long while. The company has been under fire due to a data breach that affected 77 million accounts on their PlayStation Network. You can read the full details about this breach (that included information like personal data, email addresses, birth dates, logons, passwords and potentially credit card information) right here: USA Today – Experts: PlayStation breach one of largest ever. Without a doubt, the crisis communication, public relations and marketing teams are mobilized and (hopefully) working around the clock to figure out what the situation is and how to best communicate this information to the world.

Social Media actually makes communications a whole lot trickier.

As a consumer, it seems simple enough: apologize. Let the public know what happened, let the public know how you’re going to make things right and let the public know how you’re going to ensure that something like this is never going to happen again. As a corporate entity, it’s just not that simple. If the company admits fault, it could well put itself in a position where it can have legal action (we’re talking multiple lawsuits) taken against it. While there’s no saying that the lawsuits won’t happen regardless, the way a corporation is structured and the way the legal system works forces a very non-Social Media approach to happen. The only true tactics that the corporation can now take is to mitigate their risk and exposure.

What? Were you expecting openness and transparency?

You see, as much as brands talk about authenticity, transparency and being open, it’s a hard thing to do when instances like this transpire. It seems easier (and safer) to stand behind the lawyers and corporate communications professionals. To make matters worse, the USA Today article from above reports that Sony took more than a week to notify the public about the breach. According to one of the security experts interviewed in the article, "The lag of more than a week could have given hackers time to exploit customer data."

Sony cares about their customers.

It’s doubtful there was actual malice in this instance. Sony does care about it customers, but it cares about their self-preservation first. The news item reminds me of a story that Jeffrey Gitomer often tells during his public presentations: ask yourself this: if you’re with your best customer, who is the most important person in the room? The answer is obvious… your customer, right? Wrong. Gitomer then goes on to say: if you’re with the your best customer and one of you has to drop dead, who is the most important person in the room now?

This will be a costly breach.

Trust is hard to gain. Trust is harder to gain when it’s already been given and broken. It’s going to be a long, hard road for Sony (or any company facing issues like this) to come back from. If they can convince their lawyers and their shareholders to allow them to apologize, explain what happened, compensate those who were damaged by the incident and put in place measures that will ensure this never happens again, they may be ok. If they stumble, if they try to hide the facts, if they start hiding behind those lawyers and senior management mumbo jumbo, Social Media shall set them free (and not in a good way).

Do you think Sony can restore its trust and positive brand image?


  1. Yes, Sony should be able to rebound if they lay it all on the line.
    We tend to forgive (and at times maybe even forget) if transgressions come about without malice and deceit. Depending on the level of dishonesty, will determine if the public is ready to forgive and move on.
    Transparency is key now for Sony… and yes, all apologies would be a great start.

  2. I think it can. The immediate noise in social circles is likely to be loud and there will be much discussion and dissection. But if we look at larger disasters such as Exxon and BP, although they haven’t been forgiven, neither have gone our of business and we still fill up at their gas stations.
    Sony could make great recovery if they can somehow explain what has happened in a very open matter and actually help others protect against their misfortune.
    The biggest growth can come from learning from your mistakes. Even bigger growth can come from helping others avoid making those mistakes in the future.
    The Market is fickle, Sony will ride this, like many brands before them.

  3. Sony will bounce back regardless of whether they apologize and take care of anyone whose data may get abused, but as soon as anything similar happens in the future even if it’s 5, 10, or 20 years from now, people will bring this up and point to it as a track record. At that point, there could be negative effects, but when I look at big problems other companies have faced, say Coca-Cola & BP with their environmental issues, have we really seen a long term negative impact to their brands?

  4. Sony will bounce back. This situation reminds me of Maple Leaf Foods and their struggle with listeria. Their CEO boldly faced the public and by using commercials he explained what happened and what measures were going to be taken to prevent any future occurences. He had to regain public confidence. Did it cost Maple Leaf money? Sure it did! However, their products are still on store shelves being purchased by the public. Perhaps Sony should have been quicker to admit a breach, but I’m sure their legal counsel had something to do with the delay.

  5. The situation is even smokier given the fact it can’t be even sure there was a breach at all in first place. There’s good reason to believe the problem is 100% internal and no one breached anything at all, a good indication is that the group blamed for the intrusion is denying any involvement, and that doesn’t make sense as they usually are more than happy to share their “acts”.
    I guess we’ll see as the situation evolves.

  6. The majority of social complaint about this is mostly from the general gaming community. I use my PS3 for bluray and Netflix, so the only way this has impacted me personally was that I can’t watch Netflix with the PSN being down due to the security breach.
    Now, while this does hurt the company’s trust with their consumers, they can certainly regain it. These kinds of things happen now and then. No matter how secure you THINK a network is, there is always going to be someone out there who can breach it with a bit of time. No system is 100% secure.
    At the end of the day, after something like this, all you can do is bite the bullet and apologize, then reassure your customers that action is being taken to ensure it never happens again.
    I’m willing to stand by Sony even after this. I am interested in seeing how the handle this.

  7. Is it simply human nature to forget the painful parts and try again? Explains the second child, second marriage (and the reset button on video games).

  8. Yes, it is incredible that we could allow trust again after such incompetence/irresponsibility.
    Perhaps due to all the information overload these days, our minds process info different from years ago. A “short memory” for lack of a better word. Almost like when the RAM is full on a computer. We have to delete some items before being able to store more.

  9. There are other large companies that have recovered from similar things. Tylenol comes to mind. They cleaned up their image after causing deaths.
    I think the real question is, how long will it take for them to recover? How long will the transparency messages have to wait behind the lawyers?
    Or maybe the real question is, should Sony just stick to making HDTVs?

  10. A long road back? I’d say a very long road. My first reaction on hearing this bit of news was “Sony, didn’t they do that hidden root-kit DRM thing on CDs a few years back?” It would seem they have not learned a thing about crisis communications situations. I’m not directly affected by this breach but I am again wary of the company.

  11. Online gamers are pretty much used to their accounts getting hacked. As a matter of fact, your data is well protected compared to ~5 years ago. I’ve had several accounts hacked, and although it’s a pain to have your data out in the street (and losing your game data), it’s not a reason not to play.
    The scale of this breach is major, but I can’t imagine Playstation-gamers to lay down their controllers.

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