In this age of instant information, news about restaurant fiascos and food recalls can be spread to hundreds of thousands of people in minutes, so when a food safety crisis hits, it’s essential that a company is prepared with a response and communicates with the public immediately.
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After all, when news of a crisis spreads without an adequate and timely response, it can damage a successful brand’s reputation and negatively impact customer loyalty, even if the rumors are false.
Sue Reninger, client brand strategy, managing partner for RMD Advertising, Columbus, Ohio, states the strategies used in managing a food crisis cannot and should not waver as the latest buzz dictates.
“Responding to a crisis requires pre-planning, carefully crafted messaging, and a calm, cool demeanor,” she shares. “All responses within the food business are representative of the brand (and often the family that owns the food brand). Being proficient in food crisis management is a critical discipline for any food brand or agency that has a hand in the food industry.”
By fine-tuning a food crisis strategy, she adds, brands can ensure they continue to serve the organization well and protect their public profile while helping to instill trust between the brand and its consumers.
The Rise of Social Listening
Sean Smith, executive vice president and head of reputation management for Porter Novelli, Berkeley, Calif., notes that speed has always been important, but it’s even more so now, emphasizes that it’s critical to acknowledge what is going on and work to minimize the impact.
There’s no better way, he offers, than social listening, which is free and delivers extremely valuable insights direct from consumers.
“Consumers were always talking about your brand. It’s an amazing gift to be able to listen in on that conversation—and to participate in it,” he says. “Constant monitoring of social channels helps brands understand the real-time conversations that are taking place. Whether in times of a crisis, or not, it’s important for brands to be aware of consumer chatter.”
Online communities are changing the way food-related businesses research and communicate with their target audiences. Being unaware of what people are saying about a company, farm, restaurant, or other business in a crisis on social media is risky business.
Smith says there is no other method of contacting customers that combines the benefits of cost effectiveness, speed, and engagement. That’s why a growing number of companies are turning to social listening to contain a crisis, prevent the spread of misinformation, and minimize the impact to the bottom line.
Susan M. Tellem, a partner at Tellem Grody Public Relations, Inc., Malibu. Calif., leads the crisis team and the food issues group for the company. She feels when you “listen” to social media, a company can correct misinformation quickly, find out who is friend or foe, do “live” messages from the head of the company, and rapidly make changes in strategy if the current one is not working.
“Typically, recall success rates fall below 30 percent, leaving huge amounts of potentially dangerous products out and available in the marketplace,” she says. “Social media has an important role to play to make this process more efficient and improve success rates.”
Christof Bentele, global head of crisis management for Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Novato, Calif., says clients now use social media listening platforms to pick up on issues faster than ever before to get ahead of a crisis.
“There is now so much data constantly being created about an organization that it’s now critical to incorporate technology-based solutions to ensure critical issues are flagged prior to their development into a crisis,” he says. “Social media engagement is no longer an option for a company—if it does not have a strategy, the organization will lose control over its content being shared about the business.”