Panera Needs Social Media Crisis Management after Campaign Backfires

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, Crisis Prevention, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, internet crisis management, internet reputation management, Jonathan Bernstein, online crisis management, online reputation management, PR, public relations, reputation management, social media, social media crisis management, strategic reputation management, Twitter 1 Comment

Stop, think and listen – a necessary social media pre-publishing fire-drill

Panera Bread wanted to give the fact that it uses only antibiotic-free chicken a little PR boost, so it did what many organizations are doing and took to Twitter. The popular fast-casual chain created a new profile, @EZChicken, complete with a strange mascot that looked like some sort of chicken/pill hybrid, and began posting antibiotic-bashing memes featuring text like, “Hard work pays off eventually, but lazy pays off now.”

Problem is, it doesn’t appear as if Panera thought this campaign through all the way, and a whole bunch of ticked-off farmers called them on it. Dairy farmer and blogger Dairy Carrie told PRDaily’s Matt Wilson exactly why she, and many others, were so upset:

I used antibiotics to help a sick calf get better last week, my friends the organic farmers had a cow with pneumonia and they gave that cow antibiotics to make her better. They had to sell her, but she lived. Does that mean we are lazy? Is it lazy to take care of our sick animals?

Another farmer blog, Sarah’s House HD, offered up a bit of information the general public, for the most part, doesn’t realize, that really weakens Panera’s credibility:

Something funny about any company’s “Antibiotic Free” campaigns is that by the time any animal enters the food system, they HAVE to be completely free of any and all antibiotics.  They are tested by the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) before they are processed.  So if an animal is given an antibiotic, depending on the type of animal and the type of antibiotic, they have to wait a certain period of time before being processed and sold to consumers.  So ALL food that you buy in the grocery stores are antibiotic free!

Now, we aren’t going to argue the fact that some farmers are over-using antibiotics, but the bottom line is that Panera could be saying, “our chicken is antibiotic-free” and using the very same stuff you see on a typical grocery shelf. There is nothing in its campaign to differentiate between standard U.S. FSIS-approved meat and that which is truly organic.

In response to Panera’s campaign, farmers and their supporters quickly popularized the hashtag, #PluckEZChicken, and, with sarcasm cannons fully loaded, began launching a full-on assault of the campaign that proved so effective Panera was forced to remove the @EZChicken account altogether.

What is the social media crisis management lesson in this?

First off, get the facts right. Don’t go with common beliefs, don’t assume you know what you’re talking about. Do your own research, and confer with experts in the field to ensure your statements are accurate.

Ask the audience before going live. Anybody with family members who farm for a living could tell you in a second, even inferring that they’re lazy is a fast way to make an enemy. A couple of focus groups, a little bit of outreach to the very same farmer/bloggers who created the #PluckEZChicken hashtag, and the wording of this campaign could have been altered so that everyone came out happy.

Frankly, before going live with ANY publicity campaign, you need to take a serious step back and ask yourself, and a sample audience, how could this make people mad? How could this backfire? How could trolls take over? If you haven’t asked these questions, and figured out workable answers to the issues they raise, then your campaign isn’t ready.

Erik Bernstein
Social Media Manager

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