If you haven’t heard about the shrimp tails discovered in a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, then now you have. #ShrimpGate took over the internet for a full 24 hours in March 2021, causing the General Mills brand to act fast to avoid a potentially fatal hit to their company name. What the PR team didn’t prepare for, however, was an “internet crisis”, such as this one, creating a slew of excuses and apologies without a real plan of action.
A bit about #ShrimpGate
In case you missed it, here’s a quick rundown of what happened over Twitter: Jensen Karp, a well-known online comedian, tweeted an image of what appeared to be cinnamon-sugar-coated-shrimp tails in his box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Because of his large following, the tweet picked up impressions rather quickly and almost everybody was talking about it.
The Cinnamon Toast Crunch PR team decided to respond to the situation over Twitter by denying that the food packaging disaster did not happen at their facility. Unfortunately for them, this was the wrong move. It caused another uptick on social media, only hurting the cereal brand’s image further. It wasn’t until a few days later that the team put out a second statement claiming to be working with Karp and further investigating what had happened.
Here’s Where Brands Can Learn From This
Things on the internet can happen at blazing speeds. We’re talking within a few hours. That is why the best way to prepare for a social media crisis is to plan ahead in the event that one may occur. Of course, it’s always best to work hard to prevent a crisis from happening at all, but often, in the above case, it’s not always preventable
Create some form of social media policy for your employees. Avoiding an employee posting something inappropriate or potentially harmful is the first step towards avoiding a social media crisis. Create a series of social media guidelines, including copyright, privacy, or confidentiality, and explain them to your employees as they are onboarded into your company, and that all existing employees have also been retroactively notified.
Ensure that your social media accounts are secure. The last thing your brand needs is your Instagram account getting hacked and sharing inappropriate images to your hundreds or thousands of followers. Use double-factor authentication where needed and update passwords every few months for maximum security. It’s also smart to have a password-change plan in place in the event that an employee with posting privileges leaves.
Start social listening and act on any potential problems fast. Whether you’re using a social listening tool or monitoring brand mentions manually, it’s important to stay on top of the buzz around your company’s name. That way, you can tackle any potential negative problems as quickly as possible.
Be prepared to move quickly. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to act as quickly as possible on a potential social media crisis. Some viral posts can spread internationally in just one hour.
Pause any scheduled posts on major social media channels. By doing so, you avoid any potentially “distasteful” chances to advertise your brand at a time that is clearly inappropriate. This will also allow for room for any statements that need to be shared on these channels. It’s also smart to pause any other integrated tactics such as email marketing that too could be seen as poorly timed.
Engage and interact with people, but do not act hostile towards them. Arguing or becoming defensive is in poor taste for a brand in a social media crisis. It’s important to interact, apologize and own any mistakes that may have been made. Keep responses short and to the point. This is a time to be succinct, compassionate and professional.
Create an internal crisis response team. Have a dedicated mini-team ready on hand to devise a plan and assess the situation. It may be beneficial to have a member of communications or public relations, a copywriter, a designer and a social media marketing expert on hand for quick asset creation if needed.
Move Forward and Learn From The Crisis
Unless something that was done was detrimental to your brand, many major companies are able to move forward from social media crises with ease. In fact, a little bit of humor after a certain time period can sometimes be appropriate, depending on the nature of the crisis. If Cinnamon Toast Crunched initially and handled the situation correctly, they could be in the clear by now, maybe poking fun at the situation to bring light to a not-so-pleasing situation.
Either way, it’s important to have a plan set in place in the event of a viral social media crisis. Expect the worst, hope for the best and prepare as much as possible. Looking for help with your social media strategy and management? Contact a ZAG Interactive representative to learn how we may be able to help your business or institution.