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The Kryptonite Bike Lock Fiasco
In 2004, the well-known Kryptonite Bike Lock Company leaped into unwanted social media prominence when an online video demonstrated how to defeat a $50 Kryptonite lock using a Bic pen. Kryptonite bike locks were a substantial improvement over locking technology at the time of the company's founding in 1972.
After biking enthusiast Chris Brennan posted onto a forum a demonstration of how to use a Bic pen to open a Kryptonite lock, the story quickly moved to other media as well. With potential consumers seeing an expensive bike lock being unlocked by extremely simple means, the company faced an unexpected public relations firestorm.
Kryptonite did make a response but apparently not fast enough. The firm's actions were featured in a prominent book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers , as a prominent example of what not to do in the face of a crisis. After that negative exposure, Kryptonite became the benchmark of failure to respond to social media criticisms.
Interestingly, Kryptonite responded very quickly to the security problem with its locks. Five business days after the first forum post, Kryptonite announced a lock exchange program with existing customers in order to fix the lock's vulnerability, and the first exchanges were made a few weeks later. Rather than being out of touch with social media, as some critics claim, Kryptonite took action quite fast, and its social media team was anything but unresponsive. Kryptonite's head of public relations, Donna M. Tocci, went on to contact Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, the authors of Naked Conversations , and asked to set the record straight (their book relied on secondary sources for the Kryptonite case study and had not asked for the company's input before publication). In the conversation that resulted, when asked whether Kryptonite's PR department believes it could have handled the situation better, Tocci replied, "we could have posted to the website earlier, but other than that, there wasn't much different we could do."
In spite of its proactive response, Kryptonite is still followed by negative publicity from the "Bic-picking" scandal. Although the security issue with its locks has been completely resolved, search engine results still show videos and demonstrations on how to defeat a Kryptonite lock using a pen. Some consumers, rather than digging deeper to find that the exploit has been resolved, leave with the impression that Kryptonite has done little to address the problem. Some reports claim that Kryptonite was unaware of the problem until it reached the national media, an accusation the company denies. In any case it is undeniable that this experience has changed the way Kryptonite will approach social media in the future.
Review Questions for Kryptonite Case Study
1. What factors led to the social media explosion of the Kryptonite story?
2. Do you agree with Donna Tocci's claim that the company couldn't have done much differently? If so, why? If not, what about its response could have been improved?
3. What can Kryptonite do now to prevent customers from getting inaccurate information about its products?
4. What can other companies learn from this experience in terms of listening to the community and designing their social media strategy and objectives?