Top professionals gathered to discuss trends in the food safety industry at the Food Safety Summit in Baltimore on Wednesday. From Facebook followers to live tweeting, many social media interactions were discussed and dissected. Examining these new communication tactics, a broad need was established when looking companies’ use of social media, particularly during times of social outrage: transparency. Tara Clark, ConAgra Foods Inc.; Charlie Arnot, Center for Food Integrity; Dana Pitts, Centers for Disease Control; and Daniel Webber, Edelman; sat down to discuss how companies can learn to utilize social media to add a higher level of trust to their brands. Below are some key insights from this engaging conversation.
What triggers social media outrage
Daniel Webber, vice president of digital public affairs at Edelman, answered this question by explaining three triggers of social outrage: momentum, terrain, and advocacy. Due to the intense interconnectedness of the web, events and news move very quickly from one channel to the next, whether that be social media or the mainstream media. Terrain deals with what type of news is being reported about a given company. Says Webber: “I look at Google as the New York Stock Exchange of our reputation,” meaning that a brand can be up and down in social media on any given day. Lastly, advocacy is a big part of social outrage, as it is also linked to moral outrage. This also may be the testiest of triggers, as social media has the ability to sensationalize an event based on just one picture or quote.
How to respond to social media outrage
As consumer affairs manager for ConAgra Foods, Tara Clark represents a plethora of brands and their social media presence. She agrees with Webber’s social media triggers, adding that the voices of bloggers and influencers on the internet are vital sources of consumer information—but whether they are right 100 percent of the time, that is to be debated. Regardless, Clark asserts that brands must be transparent with both their ingredients and food processing, in a way that is relatable to the consumer. “It’s ok to be human in social media,” Clark says, encouraging companies to talk to their customers in a personal and non-corporate manner.
This type of communication can help a brand in its most urgent of times, according to Clark. Using an Orville Redenbancher popcorn recall as example, Clark explained the recall notice the company posted on their Facebook page received some surprising results. Rather than criticizing the brand for its mistakes, the audience was appreciative of the company’s decision to be clear and transparent with the recall. “People appreciated that we were using the internet for good,” said Clark, noting that only one negative comment appeared on the Orville Facebook page regarding the recall.
With a study from the Center for Food Integrity, Charlie Arnot showed that a positive response to this type of transparency is common. In looking at two different scenarios where consumers reacted to companies' responses to a fictional food outbreak, the Center for Food Integrity was able to access what type of behavior they found favorable. The number one factor that garnered a good response was a company’s willingness to accept responsibility in a timely manner. Arnot said it best with his conclusion: “How and when you engage makes all the difference when talking about recovering from social outrage.”
How to use social media to increase transparency
Dana Pitts, "social media guru" for the Centers of Disease and Control (CDC) in Atlanta, says her job is to “tame the science” that comes out of the many centers of the CDC. That translates to 57 twitter profiles and 18 Facebook pages used to make the important work this health institute does approachable to tits audience. One of her more successful endeavors included what she calls a “twitter party,” in which experts from the CDC, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the International Food Information Council Foundation answered Twitter users' questions on food safety during the holidays. The conversation was a success, with more than 500 users following @CDCgov and using the hash tag #CDCchat to attain the many tips and advice the experts offered. Establishing this type of open dialog even in peaceful times can help companies if ever a crises arises. According to the Center for Food Integrity's study mentioned above, a historical record of good performance and transparency has a high impact on consumer trust in times of social media outrage.
All of these experiences with social media seem to have the same aspiration: To provide higher levels of transparency to the public, resulting in higher levels of consumer trust. With Twitter and Facebook becoming so innate within peoples' lives, this type of open conversation can come easily to companies as they, according to Arnot, "learn to speak the language of social media."