If you’ve been following consumer companies and their efforts to reach customers through social web channels over the past few months, this tweet by social media guru Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester will likely make you chuckle: @jowyang Headed to Kmart to get some Motrin after my pizza from Dominos. Skittles anyone?

Each of these brands has recently encountered the downside of social networks and online consumer behavior.  We discussed Skittles on this blog earlier, and today, it’s Dominos’ turn.  Dominos is different from Skittles in that it didn’t subject itself to this abuse; rather a few employees brought on the backlash by posting videos of disgusting food practices on YouTube (the video has since been removed, but let’s just say it’s enough to make anyone never want to eat at the restaurant chain again).  For a recap of the story, check out this article from AdAge.

This incident alone (or combined with the Skittles and Motrin controversies) is enough to scare companies away from social media altogether.  However, what the most recent incident reminds us is that our customers and our employees are already talking about us – they’re on YouTube, Flickr and Facebook and it’s when we’re not listening that we get burned. 

The Dominos PR disaster shouldn’t scare brands away, it should do the opposite.  It should show them that at the bare minimum, they should be listening to the conversation happening around their brand.  Easier said than done?  Not really.  Today, there are numerous social media monitoring tools (and good digital PR teams) out there to help.  Put that into perspective for a moment: customers were always talking about your brand, but five-ten years ago you would’ve had to follow them into their homes, to the supermarket, hang out around their water coolers and be invited to their parties to hear what they were saying.  Today, all you have to do is turn on your computer and set up an alert or two.  Used correctly, social media can be both a warning whistle and a powerful communication channel. 

Even if that communication has to come in the form of a video response (here’s a great example of Dominos crisis comm in action):

– Contributed by Gretchen Bender.  Follow her @gbender26