Posts are disappearing from Smucker’s’ Facebook page, and consumer social reaction is anything but sweet. The company, best known for its jams and jellies, is making headlines for deleting posts that criticize its stance on GMO (genetically modified organism) labeling or that pose questions about GMO’s in their products.
According to the Cornucopia Institute, the J.M. Smucker Company is also one of the top financial contributors to oppose recent efforts in Oregon and Colorado mandating that food companies label packaged foods containing certain ingredients as “genetically engineered.” (NPR just reported that both of the November ballot issues were defeated.
Negative Comments = Spam?
When CMSWire contacted Smucker’s to discuss its social media strategy and the negative reaction it has caused, Marybeth Burns, vice president of corporate communications, sent us a statement about the importance of consumer communication, which also included the following:
"We welcome consumer feedback on our products on our Facebook pages and have long-standing Community Guidelines to encourage a positive community. Consistent with those guidelines, we remove posted content – including those related to GMO and other political campaigns — that includes political commentary, deceptive and misleading claims, or are simply repeated postings or spam.”
Some would argue that posts such as those shown here, which were removed from their page shortly after they were posted yesterday, don’t exactly fall under this umbrella.
Regardless of policy, and judging from some consumer calls to boycott the company as a result of their social actions, Smucker’s has thus far failed to heed one of the basic tenets of sound social media practice: Protect the Brand.
So, what can companies learn from this latest Facebook faux pas? We asked digital media experts to weigh in with their best advice on how to avoid and deal with negativity in social media, and here’s what they said:
Bring On the Digital Media Experts
Senior Vice President and Chair, Digital Communications Practice, LEVICK
“A company should never consider deleting comments off of their own Facebook page unless the comments are violations of terms of service, illegal, or threatening. If a company is at the point of having to delete comments, they have already missed the opportunity to get ahead of the issue.
“A firm should always assume that these kinds of events will eventually happen. In order to prevent this in the future, a firm should always be building their third party advocates that will rise to their defense when needed. A brand like Smucker’s has enough brand loyalists that they should have been able to activate them in this situation.”
Director of Social Media, BrandProtect
“When a brand makes an error publicly, the fallout can span across people, media outlets, blogs, social media, etc. – anywhere that someone can share an opinion on the subject. Long-term, it's not really an issue of what happened, but what brands like Smucker's do next.
“Facebook may have been the social channel where the incident took place, but the Smucker's management team should ideally be monitoring every online connected avenue that could be used to share thoughts around this incident. The brand may not even be aware of these other forums or involved on the social platform, but their consumers sure are.
“Brands should be investing in monitoring services and technology that will find those niche mentions on the Web and alert the brand so that they may decide if it warrants further action.”
Director of Marketing, BlueGrace Logistics
“Social Media monitoring is a key component of any comprehensive online reputation management program. Creating a contingency plan is what any business should have in place as this helps ease the response time in defusing a troubling situation.
“Decide which individual is going to handle the response, craft the response, and then decide where and when to execute your decision.
- Select a face for your company. Someone who is trustworthy, and active in the company and local community.
- Plan for all reactions and instances that result in a negative impact on your product or brand.
- Carefully organize and plan content. Designate a reputation manager to your product/campaign.”
Director of Digital Integration, BFG
“Brands are given the privilege of being part of consumers' social media newsfeeds. It is a medium owned by the consumer, and brands are guests. If consumers are asking tough questions on social media – and they inevitably will, especially if you have a successful presence – it's best to have some answers for them.
“Here's a quick checklist of steps that should be taken:
- Acknowledge the complaint: A lot of people just want to know that the brand is listening. It is important to let them know they are heard, and you are working hard to address their complaint.
- Formulate a response: Address the complaint with solutions – even if you can't rectify the complaint, you can still push to a positive alternative, or just acknowledge that your product or service isn't for everyone. If it's a common question that you expect to receive over and over again, prepare some variations of the response so it doesn't look canned or robotic.
- Take it off social media: Make sure your initial response and anything that can be seen as positive occurs on social feeds so that it is seen by the public, but give those wanting to complain a less public place to do so. Set up a web page with some resources, such as FAQs, customer service channels, digital complaint forms, etc. There is no need to play everything out on social media.
- Move on: Some very, very big brands have made some major, major mistakes on social media. They either fixed them or said they were sorry, they put up with a week or two of (deserved) public scolding, and then it was back to business as usual. Consumers following your brand are there for a reason - they want to know about you and your product. So get back to your messaging plan for the majority who want to hear it. The good news for brands is that social media has a short memory. “
Co-Founder, SoMe Connect
“I feel that companies that take a proactive approach to situations in crisis succeed in managing their customers expectations if they are transparent and genuine. Take responsibility where needed, or if the company does not feel that it is wrong, at least explain in bullets or short points their stance on the situation.
“Provide a way forward in how you'll address the situation. More than anything, don't stop communicating and if anything, over-communicate.”
CEO, The Market Council
Madeline offered four rules that she follows in order to build trust and defuse negative situations in social media:
- Address the question, remark, comment as quickly as possible and validate the customer by letting them know you are concerned
- Guide them to calling and emailing customer service for a solution
- Call customer service and make sure she/he is red flagged for special attention
- Comment directly after his/her comment for public demonstration of transparency
Ian St. Clair
SEO Specialist, Clicks and Clients
“Make a clear section on your website about how you engage in social media channels and what type of filtering may be going on. Then respond truthfully and respectfully to comments engaged in accusations about your company.
“Your company social media practices should be available, and have links to them so that you can reference them when people are upset about comments being taken down. Honestly, you shouldn't remove a comment unless it's offensive for other viewers. If you do, it feels big brotherish and people are likely to react negatively. Instead, let voices be heard and remain engaged so that you can help manage the conversation.”
Owner, Beymour Consulting
“Silencing or censoring the opinions of others makes it seems like your business has something to hide, and to some, may even translate as an admission of wrongdoing.
“The only time a comment or post should be removed or edited is if the content violates user guidelines or uses language that may be offensive to other community members. It's also important to address complaints as quickly as possible, to show customers that you care.”