In case you missed it, Samsung sent review versions of their new phone, the Galaxy Fold, to media outlets. iFixit managed to get a hold of a device and did what they do. They took it apart and posted what they call a teardown of the device, which revealed some less-than-flattering details about the hinge and screen crease that drew a decent amount of attention.
Then, Samsung put pressure on whoever it was that provided the device to iFixit, and the teardown became a takedown. Sure, the review wasn't great for a device Samsung amazingly seemed prepared to ship, but trying to remove the negative press is totally the wrong play.
It isn't just because of the Streisand effect. That's the name given to the increase in attention that results from trying to suppress something you don't want people to see. In this case, the takedown certainly generated it's own attention, helping the original information to spread even after it had been removed from iFixit's site.
But that's not the only reason it was the wrong play. Let me explain.
Companies are notorious for trying to control the narrative around their products and brand as a whole. Tech companies are especially secretive and have been known to go to great lengths to keep new products under wraps and away from prying eyes. That's understandable when you consider how competitive the market is for devices like smartphones. But this wasn't about keeping something a secret. Samsung literally sent out the phones to people for the purpose of reviewing them.
It wasn't the existence of the device they wanted to hide. It wasn't even a bad review that they wanted to mitigate against. It was the presence of a few fatal flaws that probably should have been worked out before the foldable phones were FedEx'd all over the place. At this point, it's too late to try to control the story by killing it. I think by now, we all know the internet doesn't work that way.
Instead, Samsung should have engaged with the story. It might be counterintuitive but smart businesses learn that the more they engage with the conversation instead of trying to shut it down, the better the narrative goes.
Look for a minute at how Apple handled it's Apple Music Subscription free trial blunder. In case you don't remember, back in 2015, Apple wanted to give users a three month free trial of the service, but wasn't going to pay royalties to artists for streaming plays during that time. It turns out that Taylor Swift wasn't having any of it. She wrote an open letter calling for a boycott of the service.
#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer's free trial period-- Eddy Cue (@cue) June 22, 2015
Apple didn't try to bully Tumblr into taking down her message. Instead, they engaged in the conversation via a series of tweets from Eddy Cue, the executive that oversees Apple's vast services businesses including Apple Music. Two weeks later, Swift's newest album was streaming on iTunes. Apple's response turned out to be not just good PR, but smart business.
Imagine if a prominent design or product person from Samsung went public and acknowledged what everyone already knew-- that this was a half-baked product that wasn't ready for public consumption. Maybe they announce that they really appreciated the feedback and were going to work to make it better as a result of the flaws pointed out by iFixit. Then, when it's ready, they were going to send the first product sample back to iFixit to let them post a new teardown of the finished device.
There's a lesson here for entrepreneurs, business owners, and corporate executives alike: you can't shape a conversation you aren't a part of, and you can't stop an unfavorable story by trying to force someone to take it off the internet. Samsung ends up looking worse for trying to stop the story than they did for introducing a junior varsity product.
The next time your business gets a bad review, or a bad story isn't the time to try to hide. It's the time to step up and engage with your audience authentically. They'll respect your honesty and you'll have a chance to shape the conversation by being a part of it. It's not just good PR, it's smart business, which is why it's the right play every time.