Crock-Pots and Caterpillars: Cases of Crisis Management

What does a Crock-Pot and a caterpillar cake have in common? Believe it or not, they have both been the primary suspects of a social media crisis. A social media crisis occurs when a situation on a social platform starts to negatively affect your brand’s image. You might recall one of your favorite celebrities posting a screenshot of a note’s app apology on Instagram; if so, you have already witnessed crisis management in action. But how do big brands prevent a crisis from spinning out of control?

Social media crises can be created either by the brand or by the brand’s customers, with each situation requiring a unique approach. Here are two very different, yet successful, cases of brands executing proper crisis management and how to create a plan in case one of these scenarios happens to you as a future social media manager.

a social media manager making a crisis management plan

The Case of the Crock-Pot

Primetime television fans may be familiar with the show This Is Us, whose emotionally jarring plot and complex characters tug on fans’ heartstrings. When one episode of the show introduces a slow cooker that looks like a popular name brand as a plot-moving device, you would expect the response to be positive for the brand, right? Wrong.  This Is Us’s beloved father figure, Jack Pearson, is revealed early in the show to have a tragic passing. While Jack’s death was not a surprise, his cause of death was shocking to viewers (spoilers ahead). In season two, episode thirteen, Jack dies from a house fire caused by the family’s slow cooker. At the airing of the episode, fans immediately took to Twitter, stating their devastation for the loss of the character and loss of purpose for their own slow cookers.

Although the writer of This is Us did not use the slow cooker as product placement, viewers immediately recognized the product to be from the Crock-Pot brand. As a result, Crock-Pot’s once-loyal customers were now throwing out their own slow cookers out of fear that they would one day also cause a fire. While this case is an example of a social media crisis that could not have been anticipated, Crock-Pot was prepared to manage the situation before too many of its products were found in the dumpster. Crock-Pot chose to craft their Twitter responses in a tender manner, taking their customers’ emotions from the episode into account. By using a heartfelt and informative response, Crock-Pot communicated that it cared about its customers’ concerns for safety by sharing everything they currently do to prevent such tragedies from happening. By responding quickly and thoughtfully, Crockpot managed to regain control of the situation, positively impacting the brand in the short term and long-term. Today, Crock-Pot even has a Tweet pinned on their account as a reminder of the situation – a video in remembrance of Jack Pearson.

The Case of the Caterpillar Cake

If you are reading this from the UK as an avid Aldi shopper, you may be familiar with the case of Cuthbert the Caterpillar. But even if you are not from the UK, and have no idea what Aldi is, you should still read this case study as a fun and effective example of crisis management. Aldi is a German grocery store chain known for its store-brand goods that have cheaper prices but are still comparable in quality to the name brands. One of Aldi’s biggest rivals is Marks & Spencer (M&S), which sells a popular caterpillar cake named Colin the Caterpillar. Aldi, seeing Colin’s success and wanting to stay in competition with M&S, decided to produce their own caterpillar cake under the name of Cuthbert. Unfortunately, Cuthbert’s popularity was cut short by M&S claiming the cake was a case of trademark infringement. What should a brand do when they encounter legal trouble – hire a lawyer? Likely. What about posting it on social media? Aldi sure thought so, and even decided to have some fun with it!

In response to M&S, Aldi posted an edited photo of Cuthbert in packaging jail to start a faux movement with #FreeCuthbert. The post was wildly successful among Aldi and Cuthbert fans, with responses garnering support for the caterpillar cake to stay in stores. “That’s not fair,” says one commenter, “he should at least be out on snail………I mean bail.” M&S customers also had a laugh at the post, using their own creativity to edit rivals Colin and Cuthbert in a Netflix docuseries poster. Other user-generated videos contributed to over 30 million views and thousands of comments. Aldi’s use of humor was not only successful among social media users, but among M&S itself. Ultimately, the pair of grocery stores worked out a deal to allow Cuthbert to remain on Aldi shelves. This case is the prime example of the power of encouraging user engagement to accomplish an action. By interacting with their customers through social media on a daily basis, Aldi understood that humor would be the most effective way to start a social media movement and handle one of their internal crises, which #FreeCuthbert did wonderfully.

What Can We Learn from These Cases?

“The worst time to start planning for a social media crisis is when you’re in the middle of one.”

– Jay Baer and Lauren Teague, writers at Convince&Convert

The social media managers of Crock-Pot and Aldi each encountered a different social media crisis, but likely used the same framework to manage their individual situations. Before you encounter a crisis in your social media management career, follow these steps to prepare a crisis management plan.

  1. Always be listening – To stay ahead of a crisis before it happens, make sure you conduct social listening campaigns to see what customers are already saying about your brand and industry. Monitor both negative and positive keywords on social media platforms and search engine results so you will never be in the dark about conversations.
  2. Know when to activate crisis mode – Not every negative comment will result in a crisis. It is important to work with all departments in your company to determine how a crisis is defined and then set appropriate metrics to determine when a minor situation crosses crisis territory.
  3. Assign roles and responsibilities – All social media crises should be monitored by the social media manager, but you won’t be able to do it alone. Assign each person in the social media marketing department with specific tasks to complete when a crisis occurs.
  4. Communicate your response – Choose how you will communicate with your audience to carry out the crisis management plan. It is important to always respond on the platform where the crisis originated, as well as anywhere that discussions about the situation are taking place. The tone is also an important factor in your response, so you should consider the brand’s current tone of voice while still making sure to write a genuine response.

As demonstrated by these two cases, social media crises can happen at any time, for any reason. However, just because a crisis occurs, that doesn’t mean that the brand’s reputation is ruined for good. A good social media manager understands the importance of acting quickly and correcting the issue with sincerity. To ensure you act accordingly during a crisis, it is best to prepare a plan and stick to it. Now that you are armed with the steps to combat a social media crisis, you can be ahead of the game when trouble starts brewing online.

Published by adaraeengle

Hello! I am a student at CCU studying marketing and graphic design.

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