A decade ago, food processors could manage what they wanted consumers to believe about their company and the products it sold. Not any more. To quote Warren Buffet on how business has changed, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Warren Buffet’s chilling assessment of how quickly a company can bring demise upon itself today should be a wake up call for all. Most internet communication today isn’t through direct email but through social media. Here are some statistics on the medium:
- Over four billion people access social media on mobile devices daily.
- Over two billion people use Twitter.
- Over one billion people use YouTube.
- Social media now appears to be the preferred means of communicating among those less than 40 years of age.
- There is probably more communication through social media today than all other means combined.
- Social media, as an industry, is expected to grow exponentially in the years to come.
This raises an interesting question. Whom should you fear the most: the Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspector, the third-party auditor, other auditors or the retail consumer? If you answered anything but the retail customer, you are missing today’s business reality, the paramount importance of food safety and the point of this article. If you don’t understand why, the reason is that your company has absolutely no control over what consumers will say about your products and your company in response to any issue. Social media affords consumers the means to severely punish a company for its mistake(s). However, social media can also provide your company with many opportunities.
If a company is willing to invest the resources to research social media and engage customers there are a number potential benefits. If you search online for “social media monitoring” you will discover more than 50 websites offering this service. Most will charge a fee for their services but a significant number of sites (Google Alerts, BackTweets, Buffer, HootSuite, Icerocket, Mention and Netvibes) either don’t charge for their services or offer free trial periods. Most of these sites offer support to users to learn how best to monitor what is said about a company, its products, its services and the industry sector. If you are not prepared to dedicate company personnel to monitor social media, there are many companies that will do this for a fee.
If you are still doubtful about the benefits of engaging in social media, here is a short list of other things social media can provide:
- Performance metrics – Social media provides a company other means to monitor what customers are saying about food safety, product quality, new product reception, customer service, marketing effectiveness, label effectiveness, market trends and customer confidence in a brand.
- Cultivating customers – Companies can use social media to cultivate their customer base in many ways that don’t cost money, such as providing information on how best to prepare the product and different ways the product might be used. It is far better that your company tells consumers how to prepare the product rather than some amateur on YouTube. Incidentally, research has shown that many food preparation videos on YouTube use methods that are not food-safe.
- Crisis management – There is a high probability that an issue that could precipitate a product recall or a crisis within your company will first surface on social media. The fallout of such an event can be mitigated if your company actively monitors what’s being said, has been actively cultivating consumers on social media before such problems arise, and has prepared, in advance, responses for social media that provide accurate information on what the company is doing about the issue.
I believe that social media can provide a windfall of benefits above and beyond those listed above. Make it your company’s ally.
Dr. R.J. (Ron) Wasik PhD, MBA, CFS, is president of Delta, B.C.-based RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at [email protected]