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December 3rd, 2015

How NOT to Handle Social Media Moderation (The Smucker’s Case)

Back in 2014, Smucker’s handling of Social Media moderation made some headlines, and enraged some of their customers and followers.

The short story is that Smucker’s, following its own Social Media guidelines attempted to silence dissenting comments about Smucker’s GMO labeling policies by simply removing any question or criticism shared in comments on their Facebook page.

This quickly escalated into a backlash. People refused to be silenced (as people will do) and stepped up efforts to get their comments and feedback seen, as well as calling for a boycott of the company.

Smucker’s survived, of course, but could the mess have been avoided, or even been turned into a positive?

Social Media Moderation is About Opportunity as Much as Damage Control

Often companies take a crisis avoidance approach to Social Media policies that allow little room for on-the-fly assessment of opportunity. Here is a section of Smucker’s Community Guidelines from their Facebook page:

Respectful: We embrace the power of each individual. We look for a diverse collection of thoughts, ideas, and opinions, all with a sense of humor and good will. Content that includes discrimination, political commentary, cultural insensitivity, or defamation has no place here.

Looks good, right? Seems as though Smucker’s is seeking to create a safe, fun space for their fans that looks something like this.

How NOT to Handle Social Media Moderation, Scout Moderation, Facebook Moderation, moderation companies

That’s a noble effort, but that little bit about “political commentary” could be conveniently, and arguably, incorrectly used to try to silence dissenters of the brand, resulting in the escalation and backlash we witnessed a year ago.

It’s also likely included in the guidelines as an avoidance strategy. Avoidance isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, but it can create a rigid stance that instigates, rather than avoids, the very type of escalation the policy hoped to avert.

When Guidelines Don’t Prevent Escalation, Be Ready to Pivot

Rules and guidelines don’t always protect a brand from negative escalation.

Responding to escalation is tricky business, but not impossible with the right people at the helm of your Social Media management. Clear policies and regular moderation are an excellent foundation, but empowered people with high social intelligence on the frontlines of response are key.

In Smucker’s case, this was a particularly nasty predicament as they were on the wrong side of GMO policies according to some of their customers and/or detractors – an issue that inspires activist passion and for many reasons may not be easily remedied. The debate about GMO labeling notwithstanding, sometimes your company isn’t going to agree with, or be able to meet customer or the public’s demands. At least not right away. What then?

Showing that you’re listening is often enough in the moment. Simply responding with, “Thank you for bringing this up. Can you tell us more about why this is an important issue to you?” is going to have an immediate effect of calming a situation, giving the company time to assess how they can and want to make changes.

Reminding the community of policies rather than just implementing them silently helps you not look like a jerk. Attempting to silence people without explanation makes them angry. Combining the response above with a gentle reminder of community guidelines will help fans feel comfortable with the moderation. In cases of passionate topics, polite reminders are not enough, so creating space and opportunity for their voice elsewhere is an important step in the process.

Intelligent synthesis between moderation and response requires real-time observation and assessment to determine the right response given the context of the situation. In other words, be ready to pivot rather than blindly follow policies that cannot prevent every potential escalation and blocks opportunity.

Of course, it goes without saying, that all of the above works best when backed by authenticity.

Photo credit:  Smucker’s Facebook Page

Jennifer Williams is a Marketing Behaviorist at Verilliance.com, building lean marketing strategies based on consumer and decision science.



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May 15th, 2014

When Your Brand Shouldn’t Use a Meme or Hashtag

Marketing experts love to tell brands about the power of memes. They can be a potent tool for getting fans and brand ambassadors to have fun while promoting your brand. That’s a marketing dream!

But use them wrong and get ready to watch your meme get hijacked and turned against you, and your hashtag flipped into a bashtag.

The best defense is knowing some common pitfalls.  Here are three with examples:

1. Memes are a bad idea if your brand, organization, or the topic is controversial and polarizing.

If you’re looking to start an Internet troll war, or if you’re of the camp that any PR is good PR, sure, use a meme. But if you were hoping to secure a positive message, a meme almost guarantees a meme hijacking if you are a controversial or polarizing brand, or if the topic itself is controversial and polarizing.

Take the New York City Police Department who tweeted this on April 22:


What could possibly go wrong? A lot, if you consider that the NYPD is a body of power in a time of high controversy and polarization around power. It was well meaning, but the hashtag was immediately hijacked and is still going strong with the majority of tweets highlighting police brutality and incompetence.








It’s not the whole story, but the NYPD failed to understand that in the current climate, putting a request with a hashtag like this out to the world is in effect handing over the mic to a bunch of people who think you need to be taken down a peg or two.

2. Memes that are tone-deaf to the perception of your brand invite public correction

McDonald’s is appreciated for what it is – cheap, fast food served by cheap, fast labor. Few would claim to go there for nutritional value, or fond memories. Yet McDonald’s seemed tone-deaf to this fact when they created the hashtag #McDStories hoping to generate a feel-good meme (sound familiar?).


The Twitter public swiftly moved in to correct the error.


Tweets continue to make use of the hijacked hashtag two years later. Ouch.

3. Just Asking For It

Everyone knows the Internet will jump on the first chance to relive their 8 year old selves. Doesn’t matter that they’ve got nothing against you, probably even LIKE you. Give them the ammunition, and the Internet will turn your innocent hashtag into a schoolboy dirty joke. Make sure you run that hashtag by at least a few fresh pairs of eyes before you make the same mistake Susan Boyle’s team did when they launched the hashtag #Susanalbumparty (Susan Album Party) which quickly got turned into this:

Susan Boyle

Jennifer Williams is a Marketing Behaviorist at Verilliance.com, building lean marketing strategies based on consumer and decision science.

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April 11th, 2014

Hiring for Social Media? Don’t Forget Emotional Intelligence

You’ve seen it in the news.  A company’s entire brand reputation suddenly under the guillotine of public scrutiny and anger because of one tweet or Facebook post gone wrong.

Take London Luton Airport who posted this doozy on Facebook last year:

Scout Moderation | Hiring for Social Media? Don’t Forget Emotional Intelligence

 Photo caption: See more at The 10 Biggest Social Media Marketing Fails of 2013

Note to London Luton; plane crashes are not funny.  This particular photo, as it turned out, was not only not funny, it depicted a tragedy that killed a 6 year old boy.

How could such a mistake have been made?

Even if  the person who posted this didn’t know the story behind the photo, plane crashes still aren’t funny.  For many, the idea of a plane crash triggers intense fear.  If London Luton really wanted to use this photo, they would have done better with a different angle, such as, “London Luton takes every precaution to prevent accidents like this when it snows.”  And if they wanted to use a humorous angle, they needed to find a photo that was actually funny, as in absurd and improbable, not emotionally triggering.

Minimizing Social Media Disasters with Intelligent Hiring

The key word in Social Media, is, has always been, and always will be “social”.  This simple fact should drive every Social Media hire.  Not – do they know how to design a Facebook page, or run a Facebook ad, or what tools to use, or how to measure?  These are important, but they can be easily learned.

What can’t be easily learned is emotional/social intelligence.  Therefore, this should be the most important criteria in hiring for Social Media management or execution.

Do they get people?   And I mean really get people.

Do they understand your core audience?  Who they are, what turns them on and off, what might trigger their defenses, what will inspire them, and so on.  Even if they understand your core audience, do they understand the sentiment about your brand, and more importantly, do they have their finger on the pulse of general public opinion about your type of brand?

The public climate is an ever-shifting landscape.

If your Social Media director/firm lacks in emotional and social intelligence, you better build some back-pedaling apologies into the schedule and the budget.


Jennifer Williams is a Marketing Behaviorist at Verilliance.com, building lean marketing strategies based on consumer and decision science.

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