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Social media & crisis outreach: What you need to know

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The Biomin’s 2016 World Nutrition Forum is held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, October 12-16. | Jackie Roembke

Social media has the power to destroy companies and reputations. Speaker explores mitigation tactics at the Biomin 2016 World Nutrition Forum

October 13, 2016

With 1.7 billion people worldwide using social media – and with many engaging outside of normal business hours – corporations are faced with marketing opportunities or major challenges should a food crisis occur. How can animal food companies best navigate this new communication landscape?

“Speed is at the heart of social media,” explains Adrian Moss, founder and managing director of U.K.-based Focus Business Communications (FBC), noting that the psychological need to be connected to a social network at all times is being driven by the fear of missing out (FOMO).

During his talk, “The value and risks of online communities in the social media era: Minimizing brand and financial damage during a crisis,” presented at Biomin’s 2016 World Nutrition Forum, Moss notes that food is one of the most important topics on social media and much of the dialogue is driven by special interest groups and consumers.

However, the popularity of food culture, the prevalence of the medium in our daily lives, and the speed at which negative sentiments and misinformation can gain momentum, puts the animal agriculture industry in a particularly precarious position.

“Time and speed are critical in a crisis,” Moss says. “Social media can allow a mob to assemble quickly.”

Moss points to the “pink slime” hysteria of 2012. While traditional media produced the exposes, the real damage was done when mommy bloggers and consumers heightened the fallout on social media and ultimately put two respected lean finely textured beef (a.k.a. pink slime) manufacturers out of business within a week. The scary part: Both companies did everything right from a PR standpoint, but it was already too late.

To offset the risk of social media fallout, Moss urges food companies to adopt the “4 Ps of Brand Defense” principles before a media crisis arises:

Participate: Have an existing social media presence and cultivate your base of “friends” or “followers” who believe your brand.

Plan: Prepare an appropriate organizational responses and delegate responsibilities to senior staff.

Pre-audit: Outline the likely negative scenarios your company could face to ensure you're not caught off guard.

Prepare: Craft your public relations messaging in advance of an incident to provide a pre-approved, rapid response.

Moss went on to outline his “do's and don’ts” of dealing with a crisis on social media:

Do:

  • Acknowledge and own the issue
  • Provide clear advice and guidance
  • Distribute consistent and managed information

Do not:

  • Blame others
  • Delegate responsibilities to junior staff
  • Leave it to legal (they need to be involved, but they move too slow)

To summarize: Don't add to the public's distrust of the industrial food system by being shady or secretive; take on a crisis head-on with honesty and transparency. If you lie, ignore or deflect, the angry lynch mob will push your misfortune into the mainstream and could potentially irreparably damage your business and its reputation.

For more information about how agriculture should respond to crises across traditional and new media platforms, Moss suggests downloading the best practice documents from the risk and benefit communication resource center, FoodRisC: http://resourcecentre.foodrisc.org/. FoodRisC is a project formed by EU food industry stakeholders to guide the food and agriculture product companies with structured public outreach.

“This resource center is the output of the FP7 FoodRisC project. It is designed to be used as a resource center for communicators and other professionals with various degrees of experience in the field of food risks and benefits communication, in Europe and beyond,” the FoodRisC website explains.

The Biomin’s 2016 World Nutrition Forum is held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, October 12-16.