“Horse-gate” and the importance of crisis management in social media

From Findus lasagnes, Tesco burgers and Asda bolognese to Whitbread, it seems that the horsemeat scandal gets worse every day, as the saga gets even darker and more twisted and new brands become embroiled in the scandal.

The questions of exactly what are we eating continue to persist and it’s enough to turn anyone vegetarian (almost). But as many brands and supermarkets tremble at the prospect of being caught up in “Horse-gate”, there is one skill which is more important than ever at times like this: crisis management.

62% of customers are now using social media for customer service issues and nearly a third use branded social pages on Facebook to ask product questions. Whilst customer service on social media is one thing, and widely used by brands, crisis management is a whole different kettle of fish (or should that be horse?!)

With our 24/7 news cycle and the rise of social media, it is easy to separate brands who have undertaken crisis management training and those who have not. There is nowhere for brands to hide in a crisis, and you need to be proactive and demonstrate the ability to do what is necessary or your reputation runs the risk of being left in tatters.

And that is where Findus unfortunately fell short. Since “Horse-gate” broke, the frozen food manufacturer has shown itself to be massively under-prepared for such as crisis. Findus’ homepage claimed that it uses “only the best ingredients” with a picture of a “beef” lasagne – evidently not. It stayed like that for days (it has since been replaced by a brand message to the crisis), but it doesn’t do much for Findus’ reputation.

Social media was awash with Findus and horse jokes when the story broke, but the lack of presence on social media for the brand doesn’t do it any favours. A Twitter account (@CrispyPancakes1), which has not been updated for over two years, combined with a non-existent Facebook page, has resulted in customers having a lot of anger but nowhere to channel it or receive a response.

This has resulted in a 50 year heritage left in tatters as there was no effective crisis management plan put in place. Findus may have had global sales of $1.5 billion in 2011, but is hard to see how they will be able to shake off the horsemeat scandal easily.

In contrast, Tesco and Waitrose have acted quickly and professionally in the wake of “Horse-gate”, with each supermarket issuing an immediate product recall, providing a spokesperson for the media and communicating their position effectively to customers before being barraged by the views of others.

Waitrose’s open letter from Managing Director Mark Price did well to quell the speculation and put customers at ease, acting before the crisis had a chance to snowball.

What “Horse-gate” has shown us that, apart from checking what you are eating, is that brands need to be prepared for any crisis that could rear its ugly head. Act now, or else your brands’ reputation will lie in tatters and your customers could gallop away…

Picture courtesy of Pixabay, Cartoon boarder horse, Pixabay.com under a Creative Commons 1.0 universal license

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