Three strikes and this Greek yogurt is out

It’s a good thing that Chobani, the Greek yogurt company, is searching for both a new advertising and public relations agency, according to Ad Week, because it looks like the company has struck out on three fronts: First, they are dealing with the issue of acid whey, a by-product of yogurt manufacturing; second, the use of GMO in their products is causing a controversy; and third, the company just issued a voluntary recall of some of its products because they have mold in them.  The traditional way in which a company would deal with a communication crisis, or in this case crises, is through a quick response to media outlets in which the company takes responsibility for and rectifies the problem, and utilizes the CEO as the chief spokesperson to communicate the seriousness of the situation. But in the age of new and emerging social media, companies don’t have the ability to control the “spin” of their messages like they used to, as evidenced by what has been taking place in the Twittersphere regarding Chobani products.  As one consumer tweeted: “I’ve never had a product that’s been recalled before. I feel oddly weird and special. But maybe that’s just the mold in my yogurt.” And, you can see from this graphic how the #Chobani hashtag spiked on Twitter on the day of the voluntary product recall.

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The company utilizes several social media platforms, including Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, a branded web page, an ancillary web page (Chobani kitchen), and a YouTube channel. Interestingly, perhaps, is that the only space in which it offers a mea culpa is on its Facebook page. The issues are piling up for a brand that had focused much of its PR effort on the company’s founder and CEO, a Turkish immigrant who turned Chobani into a billion-dollar enterprise in a mere six years.

So, how is a company supposed to handle a crisis, or several, in an era of social media? Companies, non-profit organizations and government need to understand that  in an era of new and emerging social media things move very quickly; therefore, the company must be more nimble (read that as prepared) than ever before. Consumers and other interested parties may beat you (the company) to the punch in disclosing the issue. And while your company may like to bury an issue, others may remain engaged with the issue. In this case a store clerk tweeted that she was instructed to remove certain Chobani flavors off the shelf. She chose to alert consumers in what seemed like a public service.  Not being first out of the box on the issue and not having control over the dissemination of information means that a company must monitor social media on a continual basis. Best practices suggests the company has to be prepared to offer either the CEO or other trained individuals to address the issue, and address it often, through all available channels. The Chobani brand has strong support among its loyal customers, but you only get so many times at bat, and it looks like brand Chobani has struck out.

Neil Alperstein, Ph.D.

Program Director, MA in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland

nalperstein@loyola.edu

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