Learning from the retailer’s Paula Deen missteps
The company released a statement on June 26 stating that it was ending its relationship with Paula Deen Enterprises and would not be placing any new orders beyond those already committed. Walmart has now joined the Food Network, Caesars Entertainment and Smithfield sausages and others in dropping the celebrity chef, following her public admission of racist comments. Deen fans are mad as hell at this latest nail in the Paula Deen coffin, and Walmart is getting the brunt of it.
Fans took to Walmart’s Facebook page en masse, threatening to boycott the world’s largest retailer for dropping Deen. Regardless of your opinion on this matter, Walmart seems to have been unprepared for the reaction to this decision and the slew of negative comments that were generated as a result of it.
As an organization, Walmart is free to do what it considers appropriate and right for its business. If it hadn’t dropped Deen, there may have been just as many people taking to the page to request that they do so. Still, there are lessons to be learned on how decisions like this affect an organization’s social strategy.
Public statements will generate public reactions. While the communications team was prepared with a public statement, the community managers on the Facebook page proceeded with business as usual. No proactive post by Walmart acknowledged the issue. Instead, we saw Walmart fans having their say and hijacking the other product related posts – from fruits, to smiles, to pita crackers – Walmart’s content talked about anything but Deen, yet the thousands of comments posted by fans talked about nothing else.
To properly manage and deliver your message, traditional public relations activities must be fully integrated with social communications.
How do you navigate public outcry over social media channels? First and foremost, suspend your planned posts. Whatever the reaction or issue, it’s important to listen to the community and let them express their thoughts and opinions. You can’t be there and listen only to the good. Time and time again, we’ve seen that brand fans will take any opportunity to share through comments and discourse. Adding new, unrelated posts does nothing to deter this reaction, and often just serves to inflame the situation further.
Correct any untruths, remove the inappropriate and stick to your guidelines. It’s important for any branded Facebook page to have a clear set of community guidelines for what is, and is not, appropriate. This empowers the community manager to remove those posts that contain profanity etc. and helps direct the tone of the conversation. This does not mean that all negative comments are removed – merely those that are in direct violation of the stated guidelines. It’s also important to correct any misconceptions or errors in the posts. Don’t allow misinformation to spread like wildfire. It can and it will. This is a community after all, and you get to influence the behaviour there.
Most importantly, consider your social media channels prior to making the public statement. Social media is a direct path to your organization and reactions will be voiced there. Understand and prepare for this in advance. Time and time again, we see examples in mainstream media of organizations that have tripped up on social media channels. The real problem here is not that Walmart dropped Deen; it’s that Walmart dropped social as part of its communications mix.
Jennifer Shah is a senior vice-president and digital practice lead at Fleishman Hillard Canada. She is responsible for strategic consultation and the hands-on integration of digital solutions for clients across Canada as well as serves as a senior member of the Fleishman Hillard International Digital Leadership Team. Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.