Social Media Lessons For The Food World

by Mark

A Case Study On How To Execute Social Media Beautifully vs Disastrously…

This past weekend’s Super Bowl was particulary meaningful to me on several levels…first off, Baltimore is home town to McCormick, Inc the owner of Zatarain’s and Old Bay. Two Brands that enjoyed immense participation, visibility and all around good will during the meal occasions during the big game. Food and business aside, y’all know that I am a complete GEEK about all things digital, social and mobile. Just ask my team…they constantly remind me that there is a world outside of digital!

Anyways, during the game I saw what can only be described as brilliance on the part of the Oreo Cookie brand social team and their twitter page. These guys showcased the absolute timeliness and engagement power that Social Media affords all of us…at least those of us who understand and harness that power correctly.

Advertising Goes Real Time…

During the epic 34-minute blackout during Super Bowl XLVII Oreo’s brand team posted a simple ad that was retweeted more than 14,500 times on Twitter.  The message read: “Power Out? No Problem,” and was accompanied by a picture of a cookie with the caption, “You can still dunk in the dark.”


The AOR for the brand team is 360i and I think they did their clients a supherb job in helping the brand team react so quickly and efficiently.  I read somewhere that the agency set up a team to both listen and engage with the traffic and chatter that was taking place online during the game. There were a couple of quotes in the article that I believe really drive the point home about not only deciding to engage in Social Media, but in also having the right players involved.

“Because Oreo was a Super Bowl advertiser, we had set up a team of folks at our offices with people from Oreo as well to both listen to and optimize the chatter on the Internet,” Sarah Hofstetter, president of 360i, told Speakeasy via email. “Having a full team of creative, social media experts and the brand made it quick and seamless.”

Hofstetter added that Oreo exemplifies several digital branding best practices: “They are relevant, visible and constant.”

Oreo’s instant Twitter ad completely stood out on a night when 30-second TV spots cost $3.8 million, demonstrating the power of ingenuity and social media. Does anyone still need convincing that Social Media and Digital Advertising Are Not Only Here To Stay, But Absolutely Necessary To Remain Competitive!

Now compare and constrast Oreo’s stellar example with Applebee’s major faux paus. A waitress at an Applebee’s in the St. Louis area who posted a receipt online at Redditt with a snarky comment on it was fired after the customer complained to management.  1B5812044-receiptgrab.streams_desktop_medium[1]There has been plenty of chatter online about whether or not Applebee’s should have fired the server or not. I can honetly see both sides, but the larger issue here is how the company handled the situation online. OMFG, could they have done a worse job from a PR perspective?  Now believe me, I know that many of us in the position of responsibility for Social and Digital media feel sorry for Applebee’s just as much as we feel relief that this situation didn’t happen to us! However, there are some plain ole “blocking and tackling” execution mistakes that anyone who has been online for more than a month understands…if/when you find yourself in a Social Media Hellhole…stop digging!

As the negative comments came pouring in on the various Social pages for Applebee’s, their social team committed several big mistakes.

Trying to respond to the growing news coverage and share its side of the story with customers, Applebee’s posted a message on its Facebook Page. “We wish this situation hadn’t happened” the post began. Yikes! This obviously shows that they did not understand how to respond to an angry digital mob or ponder the fact that they didn’t have to respond at all.  This whole thing would probably have died down in a couple of days if they hadn’t kept pouring gasoline on the fire!

What went wrong?
Applebee’s says its social media policy is simple: to be as open and accessible as possible. “Transparency matters to us,” said spokesman Dan Smith in an interview. “We want to hear from our guests regardless of the subject matter.” Smith said the company’s four-member social media team gives a personal response to more than 90 percent of the posts. But until this incident, most of the posts dealt with questions about menu items or store locations, nothing like the venom being expressed in these comments.

One example: “I don’t even eat here, so I can’t quit eating here. But I would! You guys just suck that much.”

Smith proudly indicated that they tried to respond to every post, in many cases simply cutting and pasting the corporate policy statement – something that didn’t go over very well. Social media has a new and different set of rules and people who use it have different expectations than other forms of communication. Finally, unable to keep up with the barrage of negative posts, the company decided to shut off the wall, so no more comments could be posted on their Facebook page. Then adding insult to injury they posted a status update with the corporate statement.Applebees-message[1]

That was very bad Social Media JuJu, a horrible idea! It made it appear like they were deleting posts, which is the worst thing you could possibly do in a situation like this.

Applebee’s insists that they didn’t delete any comments or block any posts. However in the Digital world, perception is sometimes stronger than truth. The company and their social media team at the corporate offices have learned a very valuable lesson the hard way. The unfortunate truth and lesson here is that this example appears to be another case of a brand or company not being digitally literate.

Trust me I know from personal, first-hand expereince that it is very complicated when it comes to responding to angry comments on Facebook. The one cardinal rule is that you NEVER hide posts or delete negative comments. (insanely profane or racist comments are a different story)

I would just offer up the advice that companies and Social Media teams be prepared for when, not if a Social Media disaster happens. The wrong response can make things much, much worse and damage your brand reputation and engagement. I recommend that you have internal policies and procedures on how to handle situations like this when they happen…and trust me they will happen.

If you address the negative comments in a positive way, it’s an opportunity to show people you’re listening. You may actually create a more loyal customer or fan just from engaging with them the right way. Companies, brands and those who wish to be digitally literate also need to learn that not responding is sometimes the correct response. If you’re under attack, you may need to get out of the way and let it play out. This is especially true when the conversation has turned so angry and negative that any response will just fan the flames.



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