Public Enemy #1: GoDaddy’s PR Disaster as Customers Take to the Social Web

December 29th has been officially dubbed “Leave GoDaddy Day.”  Organized by Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh and backed by an army of Redditors, the internet is planning a global walkout from the domain registration and hosting company. To encourage customers to act, tutorials have been circulating on “How to transfer domains from hosts”, along with a slew of articles about the company and SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act).

Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh has organized a website walkout.

GoDaddy is trying to maintain a stance of diplomatic neutrality on SOPA after pulling its support. Last week alone, GoDaddy lost over 70,000 domain names, including over 20,000 in one day. At an average cost of $6.99 each, that amounts to nearly half a million dollars, not to mention potential revenue loss from subscription renewals. GoDaddy has also seen domains transferred in, though overall the company is seeing a big drop in net domains gained.

In a desperate attempt to retain customers, GoDaddy began calling those who recently transferred domains to survey if a different SOPA stance would impact their decision.  GoDaddy has even been accused of blocking transfers. On Twitter, its “social strategy” was to @reply users with the placeholder message: Go Daddy no longer supports SOPA legislation. Click here to find out more [link].

It’s a PR nightmare for GoDaddy and an empowering reality for the forces of the internet. In just 24 hours after the anonymous social networking site Reddit launched their boycott threat campaign, the company reversed its commitment to SOPA.

Even with the reversal, Redditors are still prepared to go forth with “Leave GoDaddy Day.” If successful, it could be the tipping point for SOPA debates. A real financial loss may persuade other companies with commercial interests to re-evaluate their stance.

So why is GoDaddy the poster child for the internet hate machine in the SOPA campaign?

First of all, the company is a service provider for low cost domains. Its’ customers are directly impacted by this bill.

Secondly, it’s a high profile corporation that has had direct involvement in shaping legislation. Publically attacking GoDaddy puts pressure on a company that can influence congressional decisions.

Lastly, and likely most overlooked, GoDaddy is disliked by many internet denizens. It’s notorious for its terrible service, has not had a favorable image recently (read: a viral video of the CEO shooting an elephant) and customers are annoyed with its over the top marketing antics, from celebrity spokespeople and SuperBowl ads to a lot of website bling. The company was primed to be the perfect target for a stop SOPA takedown.

It’s hard to say exactly what GoDaddy could have done differently to avoid this disaster. Perhaps they could’ve posted a statement on their site and enabled commenting from the community. They definitely could have been better about listening to their customers and responding in real-time.

And when a fiasco like the GoDaddy affair dominates the news cycle, we’re all reminded of the importance of crisis management on the social web. Arming your social team with the right tools is crucial for monitoring customer satisfaction and engaging with those who threaten to leave your business and ruin your reputation.

GoDaddy’s lack of preparedness is a wake up call for all of us in the industry. If you think social media doesn’t impact your bottom line, then follow the story of GoDaddy, which is sure to make an excellent case study for years to come. It’s the business of politics in action, with social networking as the catalyst for influencing change in the 21st century.

For more information on SOPA and how it’s affecting us all, check out the SOPA for Dummies Google Doc, created by an anonymous concerned citizen fighting for internet freedom.


@Jen_Charlton is a contributor to the Social Media Week Global Editorial Team based in New York City. Formally the Marketing Communications Manager of social media analytics startup @PeopleBrowsr, she is now working in social @Night Agency. Jennifer is also teaching herself Python and believes in a free and open web.