In the following article, it will be shown how social media marketing was employed by DuPont and Beef Product, Inc. in an attempt to overcome their respective public relations crises. It will be suggested that socially minded consumers can publicly oust irresponsible organizations via new media.
Read this article if you are a marketer at a socially responsible organization or a socially minded consumer, who wants to know how corporate giants are using social media marketing tactics within crisis management plans.
ABC News Warned Socially Minded Consumers
Both DuPont and BPI (Beef Product, Inc.), along with socially minded consumers, have ABC News to thank when it comes to exposing the potential harm that Teflon products and Lean Finely Textured Beef can have on human health.
Teflon is Linked to Horrifying Birth Defects. In as early as 2003, ABC News began to warn socially minded consumers that workers at DuPont’s Teflon plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia blamed the “the famed nonstick substance used on pots and pans” on major health issues including serious birth deformities (Ross, Schwartz & Sauer, Chemicals Widely Detected in Blood section, para. 1).
Lean Finely Textured Beef is Treated with Ammonia Gas. Likewise, in early March of 2012, ABC News worried socially minded consumers by revealing that “an estimated 70% of ground beef included lean finely textured beef,” which is a product treated with “ammonia gas” and famously dubbed “pink slime” (Sanburn, 2013, para. 6 & The Origins of ‘Slime’ section, para. 2).
Socially Minded Consumers Responded
Although ABC News broke both stories, it was how DuPont and BPI utilized social media marketing to engage with socially minded consumers that have determined the success or near failure of products that contain Teflon and lean finely textured beef.
Teflon Pledges to Make (Shallow?) Changes. On one hand, Teflon volunteered to phase out the key Teflon chemical that was “linked to cancer and organ damage in laboratory animals” (Ross, 2006, para. 5) and found in the “in the environment and in the blood of the general population” (DuPont, Why did DuPont Decide to Phase out PFOA? section, 2013). Teflon’s phase-out plan is not scheduled to be concluded until 2015, and the program replaces the harmful chemical with yet another chemical (DuPont, About PFOA section, 2013).
Teflon Engages With Consumers on Social Media. However, this lack-luster, physical response to the public relations crisis concerning its product contributing to horrifying birth defects has been successfully supported by an effective marketing effort that engages consumers via social media. There are well-known, socially minded consumers, such as Paige Wolf, author of “Spit That Out!: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt,” and physicians like Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Al Sears, who have all bravely spoken out against Teflon via social media platforms. Nevertheless, Teflon’s marketing team has done an amazingly effective job at burying those heroic efforts with an endless stream of promotional engagement on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Moreover, DuPont has successfully paid and, or bribed influential bloggers, such as Rachel Lister of Mommy Media to endorse Teflon. For example, in what is now an infamous Twitter party on October 24, 2012, Lister, via Busy Mommy Media, “hosted an event with @TeflonBrand and had several green bloggers crash the party” (Lister, 2012). In response to the green bloggers’ protests to Teflon during the promoted event, Lister blogged a defensive manifesto the following day titled, “I’m not as green as you. So What?”(Lister, 2012).
Teflon Hires Social Media Influencers. Consequently, by using social media marketing, DuPont is overcoming its public relations issue in a major way. By promoting conversations among influential mommy bloggers, it has created a distraction. Instead of socially minded consumers discussing the shortcomings of the Teflon brand, it has shifted the focus back to a bigger war between the self-proclaimed green moms and busy moms. In other words, the discussion moved away from Teflon to a user-driven argument about moms who use green products over convenience products and vice versa. As Lister suggested, “At Busy Mommy Media, we make a true effort to partner with brands that are a good fit for busy moms, brands that we use personally and can support” (2012, para. 2). Conversely, her opponents argued that supporting “Big Chemical” (Wolf, 2012) is unconscionable. Nevertheless, drones of mothers sided with Lister and, as the authors of “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” pointed out, “people are far more willing to trust each other than a company” (2011, p. 158). Therefore, instead of sitting on a corporate soap box and broadcasting shallow and one-sided marketing communications, DuPont has cunningly hired hungry moms to do it for them via social media.
BPI Makes No Efforts To Engage With Consumers. Unfortunately, it is clear that DuPont employs a crafty group of marketers who know how to effectively exploit social media and consumer behavior. Thankfully, perhaps because BPI is privately owned, thus not relying on strategic marketing budgets, it has not utilized social media marketing in way that will divert attention away from its public relations crisis. In fact, in the year since ABC News broke the story about its “pink slime,” BPI’s only social media marketing effort has been in the form of a blog that has broadcasted “primarily technology- and science-driven arguments to make their case” (Boettcher, 2012). What is more, the blog does not provide a comment field, and while it does have share widgets, the buttons do not link to a BPI owned Twitter or Facebook pages, but a simple dialogue box that allows the reader to share one-sided information about BPI. Furthermore, neither BPI’s Twitter account, nor its Facebook page is active.
BPI’s social media presence on Twitter and Facebook is in stark contrast to that of Teflon’s accounts, which consist of a constant stream of promotions, events, and sharable content related to cooking and motherhood. Unlike BPI, DuPont clearly understands “that once your company starts to connect, people will expect the company to listen and respond, not just broadcast” (Bernoff & Li, 2011, p. 201). Additionally, while it is not the intent of this post to endorse or encourage either DuPont or BPI’s efforts to mask over the pitfalls of their brands by giving away free products, sadly, there are surely plenty of mommy bloggers out there who would stand on a “frugal” platform and endorse the low-grade trimmings as safe and affordable meat filler.
So, What is the Intent of this Article?
So, if the intent is to not encourage current efforts, or give any marketing ideas to BPI, what is the purpose of this article?
Socially minded consumers have recently found a powerful voice within a new media that allows them to oust irresponsible organizations (Does your organization have a crisis management plan?). And, while these organizations may try to exploit user-driven social media channels and attempt to distract consumers from their environmental shortcomings and harmful operations, social media connects heroic voices in the loud storm. As Li and Bernoff (2011) suggested, “any individual can be stopped, co-opted, bought off or sued. But the Internet allows people to draw strength from each other” (p. 6).
For instance, whether Lister intended to bring attention to Paige’s tweets or not, her blogging about the incident certainly achieved just that. In other words, if Paige and other socially minded consumers would not have crashed Teflon’s Twitter event, Lister would never have felt compelled to blog about them doing so.
So, to my fellow socially minded consumers, crash on! (And, to my fellow marketers, be prepared for the crashers — even the most socially minded organization can find itself in a public relations firestorm).
For more information on how you can implement social media marketing into a crisis managment plan, contact the author via @AnnaSeacat or https://plus.google.com/u/0/104252689929550896388/posts/p/pub
Bernoff, J. & Li, C. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review
Boettcher, R. (2012). BOI was Slow to Fight Bad Publicity. World-Herald Omaha. Retrieved from http://www.omaha.com/article/20120401/MONEY/304019978
DuPont. (2013). About PFOA section. Retrieved from http://www2.dupont.com/PFOA2/en_US/QandA/index.html
DuPont. (2013).Why did DuPont Decide to Phase out PFOA? http://www2.dupont.com/PFOA2/en_US/QandA/index.html
Lister, R. (2012). I’m Not as Green as You. So What?. Mommy Media. Retrieved from http://busymommymedia.com/2012/10/im-not-as-green-as-you-so-what/
Ross, B. (2006). Government Moves to Curb Use of Chemical in Teflon. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=1540964
Ross, B., Sauer, M. & Schwartz, R. (2003). Can Nonstick Make You Sick? ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=124363
Sanburn, J. (2013). One Year Later, The Makers of ‘Pink Slime’ Are Hanging On, and Fighting Back. TIME. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2013/03/06/one-year-later-the-makers-of-pink-slime-are-hanging-on-and-fighting-back/
Wolf, P. (2012). This is Not a Mommy War — It’s a Fight Against Big Chemical. Spit That Out Book. Retrieved from http://www.spitthatoutthebook.com/2012/10/mommy-war-fight-big-chemical/