Published May 2018
My next series of articles are going to be written in such a way so as to give an example of what I might include in a presentation to a company calling me in for an initial objective point of view or advice on a matter of concern for their organization, and in this instance, online reputation management damage control.
Obviously, in a real scenario the information I might share would be privileged and I would not be able to post it online. I would also offer a lot more detail and even supporting data.
Unfortunately, I must limit my articles to 2000 words or less, so this is a summary.
The Listeriosis and Enterprise Foods/Eskort Disaster – Online.
What is Online Reputation Management (ORM)?
Why is it so important for a company?
O.R.M. is necessary for individuals, companies, products, services, organizations and even entire countries. (You can refer to my article about Zimbabwe, which I wrote after a visit there). There is so much waffle on the Internet about this subject, but in short, see the below:
What is Listeriosis?
The status of Enterprise Foods Online?
Listeria is a bacterium found in sand, liquids, plants and in the waste of certain animals, and it finds its way into certain food via direct contact. If a person is infected it results in muscle aches, and in many people the most common result is diarrhoea. Old, young or those people with weak immune systems can die. The basic contamination to death ratio is 1 in 4 people, so it is a very deadly infection.
The link here with the Enterprise Foods / Eskort disaster is that this type of bacterium can contaminate ready to eat foods post preparation of the product. Overcooking a food normally kills the bacterium, but no one cooks polony because it comes ready to eat. In this matter, about 800 reported cases of infected people were reported.
Enterprise Foods / Eskort has about a 20 % market share on this type of food product, but a 100% search result share on the search phrase “Listeriosis and Enterprise Foods” on Google with over 200 000 search results. This can be further exaggerated into points:
Continuing on the subject of reach – word of mouth scenario:
200 people died. At least 4 other people were affected by extension of these deaths as a family member or friend, and we can assume that each of them spoke to at least three additional people (third tear reach), which means there were, at the very least, 2400 people sharing bad news about the company. (Probably still are)
Company / Product Reputation on Google:
TIGER BRANDS managed Enterprise Foods
The company is a Top 40 JSE Limited Company / $2.5-billion Johannesburg Stock Exchange
The company has had to deal with issues before in terms of negative online reputation: Kenya fraud scandal, Tastic Rice recall, Bread price fixing.
The company enjoys at least a 20% local market share of the ready to eat meats market.
The social media following, all platforms considered, is under 10 000 with a low engagement and like status. Past information does include outreach programs, which appear to have been ‘boosted’ as a positive post in between the news / responses on the crisis.
TIGER BRANDS’ response on the crisis could be found on the 1st page of Google, position 3. SA local search. This is a good position to have. Unfortunately, this really was the only positive news they had on the first page of Google. The post included:
Frequently asked questions, with 3 categories; each with several points in each category. In this post they advertised a call line. The company did apologise for the situation without assuming any verified accountability on the opening pages of the post. They later did in an extension post available 2 clicks away from the confirming accountability. I found it interesting that on their post they announced a loss value for themselves if they proceeded with complete cessation of the product. Assurance was given in the post that the company would remain transparent and honest while following several processes to get to the bottom of the situation. Extension posts also referenced the class action lawsuit.
The company ran a consumer education campaign including printed media.
Crisis status at time of assessment:
Negative information monopolized the Internet and social media, 100% blame assigned to company.
1st, 2nd & 4th, 5th and 6th position on Google (most important positions):
News24 had 1st and 3rd position on Google. Confirmed in writing scientifically came from an Enterprise factory and also confirming a recall of related products.
SundayWorld article, confirming 7 more sample products had been found with listeriosis. The article also mentions heartbroken parents who lost their children, and total cases of death nearing 200 people. The article also talks about the class action case. (4th on Google)
Ewn article, a lot of repetition, and 5th position
Sunday times has 6th position with a video – assigning responsibility and talk on the subject.
How did the company respond to crisis?
How was the action received?
Some highlighted. On social media, the company proposed that people do what the Minister of Health advised.
This was a very clever post, reasons I would go into detail in an actual presentation.
This was also a very clever post.
Negative reaction from people:
This was an important post but in my opinion did not highlight WHY the company will not suffer 100% loss of market share, that being lack of competition.
This was an example of a really damaging post.
Were there any similar cases worldwide?
I would normally include data on this subject in a full report, as well as notes on how other companies dealt with similar situations. But this article is already over 2000 words so I need to summarize and say, in 2018, a company in Canada had to deal with a very similar situation which resulted in the deaths of 22 people. 57 changes to country wide policy on food processing was the end result.
In terms of similar and recent severity, there are none. Tiger Brands has had to deal with the worst situation.
My notes on how the crisis was managed:
(It is a worthwhile point to note that this company is in fact a client of mine, but I will not be biased in comments because of this).
I do think the company managed this crisis well online.
Please note my feedback is specific to “online”
Other side of the same coin, my summary of some recommendations I might have made if I were part of the task team:
Once the class action case is finalized, and final reports are in on how this disaster happened (actual points of contamination and source), a second phase of steps needs to be considered. I might therefore do a follow up article.
Published May 2018