Snap, crackle, whizzz: How Kellogg coped with a viral video

rising tides

March 11, 2016:  Posted online: a 43-second video showing a man urinating onto a Kellogg’s conveyor belt, clearly contaminating a Kellogg’s product. The video went viral and spread to mainstream media.

Kellogg found itself responding over social media at the same time it was learning the facts.

In its first tweet, Kellogg Company did triple duty: replying to @SupaFirePilot, setting the stage for its messaging and making sure that Kellogg US was in the loop:

first tweet

From the first, Kellogg’s social media responses were consistent and swift.

The early tweets were important. Days before the release of Kellogg’s official statement the tweets were widely quoted in the media.

March 12: The video, along with Kellogg’s reaction, hit the news on a global scale. In addition to questions of health and trust, hilarity spreads. This back and forth from reddit  is an example:

  • I honestly don’t think I want to know…ignorance is bliss.
  • In this case, ignorance is piss.
  • Is this a pun thread? I’m in if urine.
  • We shouldn’t waste our time with these piddly attempts.

And, another example from Twitter:

theyre grrreat

Kellogg did not join in on the jokes.

disgust

March 13: Kellogg continued to monitor and address every inquiry on its managed social platforms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—including those arising in the comments of unrelated posts, as in this Instagram example:

instagram comment responses

March 14: An apology from Kellogg’s North American president was posted on Kellogg Company’s Social K blog.

The apology expresses disgust with the video and sincere emotional caring for customers. It addresses three areas of concern, including first, that the company has launched internal and criminal investigations. Second, that the “situation is a food quality issue and does not present a food safety risk.” Third, that the company is committed to share more information as it becomes available.

The apology was posted to the company’s social blog rather than to its newsroom. This decision properly assigns the need for an apology in the online world where the crisis originated and where the majority of discussions took place.

One problem: the apology contains a link to Kellogg Company’s Facebook page which is offline.

The apology was effective.

After March 14 the video fell out of the news and ceased its viral spread. The crisis settled into an issue which Kellogg’s social media team continues to address through social web responses.

Was this a crisis? Definitely.

From the time the video was posted to the time the apology was posted, Kellogg Company’s share price trended downward.

But, the company’s apology was a turning point.

share prices

On the day the apology was posted, share prices began to rise…

google trends march 14

…and  interest in Kellogg’s began to fall. (Google Trends)

However, the second “No quick resolution?” devaluation (above) might be connected to a lack of information updates (although further research is needed to prove this). What can be said is that once Kellogg was out of the news, the company’s overall crisis response and its longstanding good reputation were likely factors in its share price recovery.

Support eventually gathered around Kellogg. Here’s an example of a Twitter follower vilifying the pisseur, blaming unions and making it clear whose side he was on:

public support

I’m in if urine.

Impressively, Kellogg managed to dodge reputation-wrecking ties to urine which, year over year, is far more interesting online than “Kellogg’s”:

google trends high urine

(Google Trends)

According to hashtagify.me, Kellogg remains most highly associated with its promotional campaigns, rather than the top-ten connotations of urine.

Kudos to the Kellogg social media and crisis response team for not fanning the comedic flames:

  • No mention of urine in any of its responses.
  • Jokes were left to the public.

Kellogg’s response kept the focus on the company and its customers as the wronged parties. And it drew attention to the criminality of the act as the topic most worthy of discussion.

What more could’ve been done? 

The downed Facebook page could have been explained, particularly since the apology linked to it. And, although a proactive tweet gave Twitter users a direct link to the apology, a similar post wasn’t made on Instagram. All social platforms where conversations took place needed access to the company’s latest information.

Finally, Kellogg continued to respond on social but didn’t provide centralized updates once the apology was published. Since this potentially influenced the second share price decline, follow through with updates in the early days of the crisis–even if only to report on the ongoing nature of investigations–may have had a better impact on share prices.

However, in the end, the response was impressive and effective.

Consistent from the first tweet to the published apology, Kellogg’s crisis response reflects sophistication, preparation, coordination and a lot of hard work.

What do you think: did Kellogg make you feel better about eating its cereal?

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8 comments

  1. kbprblog

    Hi Robyn. I think it’s a great point to note that for days before Kellogg’s could put out an official statement (I assume while they did some more research and came up with a strategy), that the social media responses were published over and over. It really speaks to how important those interactions can be for a breaking story, since the media will not wait when a story is breaking. Also, I agree that it was a good idea for them to not mention the word urine anywhere. They were already trending so much associated with the word (I remember googling it and it was the first search result for Kellogg’s), by taking a step back from the jokes and gross details they were able to refocus the story on what the company was doing, rather than what had happened to those corn flakes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Fox

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I agree: the Kellogg response is a lesson in what to say when you don’t fully know the facts. And wow, they came up with the facts (location, products affected, health implications) quickly, especially since the site of the incident had undergone physical changes since the video was made. It seems Kellogg relied on employees to recognize the production line; a case for cultivating worker loyalty: assistance during crisis!

      Like

  2. nadinevictoriamae

    Hey Robyn,

    I really enjoyed your post. My group did a discussion post on this during week 8, so I found it really interesting to see your take on it, and learn more about the situation.

    I agree that it was handled effectively, and I appreciate all the steps they took to contain and manage the crisis. With such a sensitive issue, I respect how seriously they took it (and as mentioned by others, let the bystanders point out the obvious humour – que the overused ‘who peed in your cornflakes?’ jokes)

    It’s good to see that they are not most recognized with their ties to ‘urine’ and more closely connected with their promotional campaigns. I think tha’s all you could hope for when you dodge such a serious bullet. Or stream, I suppose.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Fox

      Thanks for the comment! I’m thinking that there’s still lots of fuel for humour that Kellogg needs to watch out for. How can that be helped? Humour alleviates that sick feeling of wondering what others may have intentionally put in our food. And, the topic of food contamination is an ongoing issue for Kellogg and other companies–I found numerous pictures along the line of “I found this in my cornflakes” when I was researching.

      Like

  3. shannonleevee

    I agree that the downed Facebook page could have been explained. I am not sure why the FB page was down, especially at this time of crisis, but an explanation would have helped clear this up and probably alleviate a bit of frustration for those trying to use the link and/or visit the page. You are also correct that centralized updates once the apology was published are key. They keep information clear and focused and assist the online users in finding the information easily and quickly.

    Overall though, their response was great. They monitored, listened and responded to many posts and leaving the jokes to the public was a good part of their strategy. I doubt their customers would be agreeable to them making jokes about urine in their food- people are very sensitive when it comes to food products and somebody tampering with the quality of them. Kellogg’s response kept the focus on the company and its customers as the wronged parties. And it drew attention to the criminality of the act as the topic most worthy of discussion. To answer your question, and based on your post, Kellogg did make me feel better about eating their products in the future. Although, I don’t eat Kellogg products (not a fan of cereal), I would be open to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. heytheresacha

    Well first off, I still love Kellogg’s haha
    Anyway, I agree with you that Kellogg handled this issue quite efficiently. They clearly stuck to their key messages and they clearly maintained consistency, whether that meant having one spokesperson or community manager the whole time or not. This does also go to show how a positive reputation leading up to a crisis can go a very long way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robyn Fox

      Thanks for the comment, Sacha. When I first heard about this crisis I thought the response was stand-offish. But when I looked into it I realized how much engagement there was and how many smart decisions were behind the apparently simple strategy of sticking to the message and talking in a human voice.

      Like

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