Samsung Galaxy Fold PR Disaster: An Embarrassment Or Opportunity?

Creating a good public relations campaign requires a strict adherence to timelines, meeting milestones and gathering of necessary collateral. It is also even better to stay alert and be wary of potential red flags that could lead to a PR Crisis – especially when they are often unexpected. 

In the case of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, everything seemed to be going according to plan. The Galaxy Fold would be the tech giant’s — and the world’s — first foldable phone in the market, promising mobile entertainment on a bigger screen with flexibility. 

Just like every other campaign, Samsung offered news agencies and tech magazines a first look at the phone. Journalists were given review models a week before the official product launch. In return, Samsung hoped to get a good word out on the Galaxy Fold.

However, Samsung’s first foldable phone couldn’t fold. Journalists complained about malfunctioning phone screens and did their job telling the world about it. 

Videos of cracked screens flickering away went viral on social media within minutes. That alone was damning enough to convince the world that the Galaxy Fold was too good to be true. 

Could this all have been nipped in the bud before it exploded out of proportion? Is there no moving forward after this? While Samsung takes its time fixing what needs to be done, there’s much to take away from the situation.

What went wrong? 

Good media prides itself on being extremely up-to-date, cutting through the chatter and sieving out the latest trends to write about. Similarly, a good PR agency has to be equally on-the-ball, if not more so, in order to manage the public’s perception of a campaign or product. 

During the week before the Galaxy Fold’s official launch, Samsung was ill-timed in their response:

They took too long to recall the phones

Problems with the phone surfaced after just two days of use. It took Samsung a few more days to recall all of its review units, cutting short a full 10-day loan period for journalists. At this point, news of such problems was being published. 

They weren’t clear about what went wrong

Journalists blamed vague instructions on using the phone. Some removed a plastic film off the screen which was essential in keeping the Galaxy Fold foldable, mistaking it as a run-of-the-mill screen protector. Others had undetermined issues. Nobody knew what was going on, and Samsung gave little clarification. 

They weren’t aware of growing negative sentiment and uncertainty

The Galaxy Fold came with a pretty hefty price tag and it wasn’t helping with product perception, with the phone malfunctioning before hitting the stores. After the incident with the media, the official launch date was delayed indefinitely. In the meantime, stores were cancelling pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold. Several media outlets labelled the Galaxy Fold as frivolous and an idea that was ‘doomed’ from the start. Samsung launched new products during this interim period but hasn’t really gotten back to addressing issues about the Fold. 

Samsung’s wager on the Galaxy Fold was a make or break opportunity. It would put Samsung up as a formidable trendsetter in the world of consumer technology. The publicised failures of the foldable phone meant little to the company’s overall revenue but were damaging possibilities of improving brand sentiment. Coupled with the Galaxy Note 7 battery explosions of 2016, Samsung had a point to prove on its reliability and was risking consumer confidence.  

What could have been done better, and is there recourse to the current situation? 

Solution 1: Catching up in real time

Ideally, a PR team is expected to tackle such situations ASAP. The team should be in full activation in the field to spot developments and keep a check on social sentiment. The key is to identify problems before further escalation.

But crises always occur when least expected. Rather than react to incoming storms of bad press, it is much easier to formulate a response when one’s already plugged into what people are saying. Having eyes on specific media outlets or influential voices provide comprehensive understanding of the crisis at hand and help in detecting potential storms before they brew too long. 

While traditional media monitoring is absolutely necessary, it is also time-consuming. In crucial moments such as Samsung’s Galaxy Fold screen issue, every minute is significant to PR professionals for coming up with actionable plans. A PR team cannot control products or reviews. They can listen, learn, and act accordingly – and it’s wise to arm themselves with responsive tools for such purposes.

Things to consider before selecting a media monitoring tool:

  • Is it armed with access to multiple news sources such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, local forums and social media?
  • Besides Instagram and Facebook, is the tool able to track social media platforms such as WeChat?
  • Does the vendor provide local support?
  • How often are they innovating their service? E.g., adding new channels or upgrading features?
  • Is it easily accessible on the go? Is it mobile-friendly?
  • Can alerts be created for specific trigger keywords?

On top of being able to do all of the above, Meltwater provides access to over 300,000 news sources and updates users with news on a regional and global scale. PR professionals can simply look out for specific keywords or media, allowing more time to craft PR strategies.

In the case of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, journalists took to social media first to demonstrate flaws before writing up their reviews on their media platforms. The virality of such content contributed to the extent of the crisis as well. Meltwater’s Social Echo feature is one way to spot the virality of an article on social platforms. With this feature, you can easily track the engagement related to the article on Facebook, as well as the number of times the article has been tweeted or retweeted on Twitter.

While there’s no need to stay fixated on screens for constant media updates, anxious PR professionals can remain calm with Meltwater’s notification system. Alerts on various topics and keywords can be created and sent to the user throughout the day, in real time, via dashboards that are intuitive, to know what’s going on. 

Though the Galaxy Fold’s screen problem is unexpected, fast responding media monitoring could still help set off protocols in addressing issues that were sounded out as well as to stave off pending negative reviews and news.

Solution 2: Streamline your data and consider your strategy

Now that there’s an understanding of general media sentiment across the Internet, important questions must be addressed. What are the specific issues that are hotly discussed now? And how are competitors reacting to the situation?

Before laying down any strategies, consider categorising data for a better overview of the situation at hand. Dashboards allow users to customise data that has come through the platform and analyse it with the help of various metrics. 

For Samsung’s case, a combination of metrics indicating the range of sentiment, top social posts, topic momentum and story sources can help paint a brief, yet practical outlook on the crisis. This information is further customisable in various forms such as pie charts, word clouds or tables for better understanding. Comparisons can also be drawn between social media and news sentiment, for instance, allowing Samsung to pinpoint its target audience and issues to address when it relaunches the Galaxy Fold. 

A dashboard on Meltwater’s Media Monitoring tool

Is there still a public relations future for the Galaxy Fold?

Granted, this isn’t the first time Samsung has had to explain itself for faulty electronics. Exploding Galaxy Note batteries had the brand on edge, though they have since further pushed for better quality management – along with a slew of smartly-designed campaigns and videos to boost confidence in their product.

Despite the delayed reaction to what most would perceive as a blowout disaster, Samsung has once again proved that it is listening to its audiences. Noting responses that people would mistakenly pull out the protective film on phone screens, Samsung promised that it would look to create better messaging in its packaging. 

It’s a small step, considering that troubleshooting works for the Galaxy Fold is still in the works. On a public relations front, Samsung has to address the more significant issue: how is Samsung going to rebuild confidence in a product that had already failed before it even entered the market?

It may seem like a dead end, but with a sharp ear on the ground, this is one that still has a chance to develop into something successful. Samsung has still yet to determine another official launch – competitors are no doubt keeping a close eye on this. As it prepares for its next chance at pushing the Galaxy Fold, there’s still time to listen and prepare for a relevant and swift response.