Is Toxic Social Media Destroying Your Brand?

With social media in the branding mix, you can't let toxic rumors get out of hand.

Surprisingly, even the biggest companies can be clueless about social media. In the stone age of advertising before the web, when we were still advertising in print and with commercials, you got to define your brand. Consumers didn’t have access to unlimited information about your company and thousands of reviews.

Those days are gone. Your advertising company has completely lost control of your brand image. For some companies, this means trouble. Others are gloriously basking in the glow of social media success. Here are examples–and what you can do to avoid (or mitigate) a disaster.

Social media gone horribly wrong

Oh, Oreo. Americans have loved your cookies for 100 years. We ate it up when you started producing new flavors, double stuff and then thin. Personally, I will eat Key Lime Oreos until I make myself sick.

You have a crack social media team, pumping out videos, humor, staging little giveaways. You’re one of the most entertaining brands on Twitter. And Twitter is still going pretty well, because Twitter loves food porn.

And then there’s Facebook.

After all of that stellar image building, an unfounded rumor is destroying the brand. A story about Oreo closing its plants to move production to Mexico is all over social media, and consumers are pissed. Donald Trump mentioned it in a speech. There are memes. It’s bad.

Here’s the thing: It’s not true. Oreo remains in production at New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia plants, and it is expanding operations. There are layoffs at one plant in Chicago because the equipment is outdated and there was some dispute with the union there. This has nothing to do with the company’s international expansions. While it’s true that parent company Mondelez International has a plant in Mexico, it has plants all over the world because it sells products all over the world.

Still, nearly every post on Oreo’s Facebook profile looks like this:

GrayGuestPostOreoFacebook

The company that’s been so responsive to every comment has fallen silent on this issue, and I can’t imagine why. People are attributing imaginary taste and quality issues to contaminated water in Mexico and/or failing company standards. (I buy Oreos, they are exactly the same.)

So why isn’t Oreo doing damage control? Is it possible that the truth is worse than the rumor? That alienating Trump followers isn’t as disastrous as the risk of inflaming the left as well as the far right with the details behind the union contract dispute?

Here’s how I would handle this mess:

Point out that the distribution point printed on the back of every package is where the cookies were manufactured.

The press release says, “While the new investment will affect approximately 600 positions in Chicago, we’re committed to treating all impacted employees fairly through this difficult time.” Explain: Where are those employees now? Did you relocate them? Give them a generous severance package? Help them find new jobs? Find them new positions within the Chicago plant? Highlight all of the positives.

Use the press and bloggers. Connect with journalists and give them a real story. Keep a close eye on social media sentiment, and respond to every brand mention, good or bad. Identify and connect with influencers who talk about your brand. Tell them the story. Send cookies. Everybody loves cookies.

Go on the Trump offensive, like Ford did on the same issue:

Understand that it might backfire if you’re actually doing what you’re being accused of. Ford is moving small-car production to Mexico and retooling its plant to produce more popular trucks and SUVs. No jobs will be lost, but Trump supporters fail to see the distinction and are having a field day on Twitter. Ford is responding with the same canned tweet, over and over. It’s not pretty.