Last night, news broke about a potentially embarrassing lawsuit involving Aaron’s, one of the nation’s largest rent-to-own companies. The lawsuit alleges that the company spied on customers who rented computers which included taking pictures through a webcam and transmitting it back to the company as evidence of use if they needed to repossess the machine.
Before I go any further, its important to realize that the claims within the lawsuit could be completely false and Aaron’s has issued a press release claiming the lawsuit is without merit. However, even if the suit is proven to be 100 percent false, the company will face a prolonged battle to educate and inform customers who have already made snap decisions based on the news and if the lawsuit is dismissed, they may never find out. These claims and information cycles generate urban legends and if Aaron’s doesn’t act quickly, they could see a permanent black mark on a brand that up until today has avoided widespread negative publicity.
The problem that I want to highlight is that the company’s lack of a social media presence is hurting their brand and could prolong damage to their company’s reputation. Aaron’s is a major retailer and the company has more than 9,600 employees, but they don’t have a company Twitter account or Facebook page.
Every brand should have these accounts setup even if they’ve determined there is no value proposition in actively using them. You need infrastructure in place to build followers and avoid having to deal with squatters who may have already registered your desired account names.
Does Monsanto have a twitter account? Yes. What about BP? Yes. ExxonMobil? Yep.
I bring this up because these are large companies that are lightning rods for controversy and it surprises me that a B2B / B2C company like Aaron’s hasn’t even bothered to register an account. In their line of business, they’ll likely have to deal with their fair share of unhappy customers, but even Comcast engages in social media and they were rated one of the 10 worst companies by reputation in a recent Harris Interactive poll.
In other sectors of online marketing Aaron’s is losing the battle as well. If you Google “aaron’s lawsuit” there are already PPC ads for law firms and no ads for Aaron’s advocating their side of the story. A Digg story about the lawsuit already has 140 votes and the story is getting traction on other sharing sites as well. News sites are seeing visitors “Like” and tweet their story which is allowing this story to gain a wider audience.
Aaron’s needs to act fast if they want to preserve their brand reputation. Letting speculation run wild will continue to fuel rumors and urban legends and could seriously damage their image far beyond the claims in the initial lawsuit.