Hasbro's early warning

In Reputation monitoring - macro and micro, I wrote that any mention of a company could be the first sign of a big problem. Sometimes an isolated bit of objective information is a company's first warning. I proposed the idea of "micro monitoring" to describe a market intelligence activity geared toward identifying those stray bits of useful information. Here's a recent example.

Late last month, Hasbro Inc. made the kind of headlines no company wants. Two children choked on a part from a Playskool Team Talkin' Tool Bench, and so the company recalled the product. You can get the details of the incidents and recall from the links. I'm going to focus on how Hasbro first learned of the problem:

Playskool Team Talkin' Tool Bench

"Hasbro learned of the death in February after an employee saw a reference to it on Amazon.com during a routine check of online comments about Hasbro products..."
Washington Post, 2 Deaths Prompt Toy Recall

"Hasbro learned about the death in West Virginia after reading a review of the Team Talkin' Tool Bench on Amazon.com in February..."
Chicago Tribune, Playskool toy tool benches recalled

This is micro monitoring. It didn't matter how many people wrote about it, or whether they influenced others. The company learned of the first death by reading product reviews on Amazon. Then they reported it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the usual mechanisms kicked in. If it weren't for their monitoring activity, they might have had no idea of the situation until the first lawsuit arrived.

The news hits the blogs
How did this play on blogs? There was a spike of activity, but it happened after the recall announcement. Look at the volume. Bloggers found out about it from Hasbro's announcement, and the discussion has focused on spreading the word.


This product recall isn't a blogger PR disaster. Macro monitoring of the blogosphere wouldn't have helped in advance, although it would be useful for tracking reactions.

Monitoring your own reviews
If you're not reading the online reviews of your products, here's your wakeup call. I doubt that Hasbro was looking for news of a product-related death when they looked through their reviews. They probably wanted to know what customers think of the product—they were conducting open-source market research. When they did, they got the first warning of an approaching storm.

Are your products reviewed where they're sold? Amazon gives customers the ability to review products at the point of sale. Do you read your own reviews? How about other product review sites? Tracking blogs is the easy part—they're typically open to search engines, including specialized blog search services. Reviews may be locked into a database, not so easily searched.

Options for monitoring reviews
How can companies monitor product reviews? Hasbro is doing it internally at the brand team level, without benefit of tools to automate the process. So one proven method is to give someone a list of products to look up on review sites. That's a start, but it would be nice to have a more efficient method.

Amazon reviews are searchable, but they don't offer RSS feeds (yet?). I've talked with some people at the monitoring companies, and the consensus is that monitoring product reviews on Amazon should be possible, but most tools don't do it today. The exception is Cymfony, who will monitor Amazon reviews on client request. I would expect the others to add the capability; you might want to ask when you're selecting a monitoring service.

Monitoring social media is about more than monitoring blogs. You need to find out where people are talking about you and pay attention. And as you track the macro trends—influence and buzz—consider that the isolated bit of information can be important, too.


About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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