The Anatomy of a Crisis Part Two: There’s No Horsing Around

In part one of this series we discussed that issues shouldn’t be viewed purely through a social lens. Just because a company is affected by an incident doesn’t necessarily mean it becomes embroiled in a crisis. However, that does not mean crises don’t exist. And when a true crisis occurs it can mean lasting financial, reputational and trust issues for the company.

Take Tesco, for example. When the horsemeat scandal broke, Tesco was one of the first in the firing line and the online backlash was immediately apparent.

Clearly the issue was a crisis, with or without social media. However with over 160,000 posts specifically mentioning Tesco in relation to horsemeat on the 16th January, social media amplified the situation (like a negative viral meme). Tesco, from the moment the scandal broke to the present, has been by far the most mentioned retailer online in relation to horsemeat:

It could almost be suggested that Tesco had become synonymous with the horsemeat issue: and that has fuelled a continued crisis for Tesco.

Past the initial backlash you can see a continued high level of online chatter (particularly Twitter) linking Tesco to horsemeat.

If you look more carefully, by removing the high volume of Twitter traffic, you can often see this chatter is driven by mainstream news.

The supermarket has continued to be linked to horsemeat online and in the press. Continued mainstream news coverage around the horsemeat scandal (even when it does not specifically focus upon Tesco) drives, and amplifies, social media chatter, linking the crisis continuously back to Tesco.

But, is Tesco really suffering from a loss of trust and reputational and financial damage?

Or is it just horse jokes?

Already Tesco has supposedly had £300m knocked-off its market value since the scandal broke. The long-term financial damage is harder to tell. However, a loss of trust and reputation seem likely. The length of continued online comment around the scandal points to potential reputational damage. The link between horsemeat and Tesco has been kept at the forefront of people’s minds for an extended period making of time: making the entire episode hard to forget for any potential customer!

Trust is probably the hardest to measure. By the 17th January Tesco CEO, Philip Clarke, admitted that the retailer had “lost trust” due to the horsemeat scandal. Twitter points to a high numbers of horse puns, but comments can also easily be found suggesting customers are avoiding the supermarket because of the crisis.

A crisis is often fuelled by real world events. However, the power of social media cannot be ignored. News is amplified by the online chatter, reaching more and more people, making it far harder for the brand to control and limit the damage of the situation.

Look out for Part three: Can brands actually benefit from a so-called “crisis”?

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