Skippy, the peanut butter brand owned by Unilever, is in the middle of an extensive recall of some of its products because of the risk they contain salmonella. Whether the company’s lawyers are managing the crisis or playing a role in PR decisions or not, Skippy is limiting the use of its Twitter account to answer questions about the recall and referring people only to the official news release on the company website or to their toll free number. That’s a very good start in a crisis — but a company that limits its online conversations to responding to questions is missing a golden opportunity to communicate effectively in a crisis.
The company announced the recall on Friday, March 4 in a news release posted on its homepage and on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website. But nothing about the recall was noted on its Twitter account until Sunday, March 6 when the company began responding to recall questions that were posed publicly by Twitter users. However, all these Tweets did was to confirm the recall and then referred people to the news release or phone number.
So much more can, and should be, done to defend the company’s reputation. First, the company could have driven home the message online that the recall decision was made by the company after its own testing of the products — instead of a government agency investigating and mandating a recall. Corporate reputations are improved when companies look out for customer safety before someone is injured but they are harmed when there’s a perception that it is cutting corners and the government has to come in to slap their wrists or take legal action.
Unilever does not seem in sync with its own polices/guidelines regarding communications about its food products. Read this.
Skippy also should have been using Twitter (as well as YouTube, Facebook, etc.) throughout the first few hours/days of the crisis to tell the world what it was doing to resolve the crisis, to remind regularly that no one was reported sick from their products and that the company is doing everything possible to ensure the safety of its customers. If proactive and corrective measures are already in play, why not tell the world?
YouTube might have been used to show an executive at Skippy talking about his or her concern for consumers and explaining the recall process and its full cooperation with the FDA. A video might also remind customers that the recall is limited to the reduced fat peanut butters. Digital video also allows a company to (literally) put a human face to the brand and to be more personal with customers. That is exactly what’s called for in a crisis in which trust and credibility might be at risk.
(As the founder of the Crisis Communications Network on Ning.com, I refer you to a collection of videos there that show leaders facing the media in serious crisis situations.You can also find my earlier post about Skippy and its use of Twitter here.)
Finally, a company that was smart enough to buy the domain http://www.peanutbutter.com (reportedly in 1998) shows it understood the power of the Internet. However, its “Skippy” Twitter account has less than 300 followers. So even if Skippy used Twitter more effectively today, its reach will be limited without multiple retweets and mentions. The lesson here is that companies need to build a strong online following in good times so that in a crisis you reach the masses with your messages, rather than people believing the many rumors and inaccuracies people often find on Google and Bing during a crisis.
What do you think? Is it enough to respond to customers or should Skippy/Unilever be more proactive and take advantage of all social media tools to defend its reputation?
And because I like nostalgia, here’s a classic Skippy commercial from the 1950’s..