O.R.M. on Listeriosis Enterprise Foods Disaster (May 2018)

Published May 2018

O.R.M. on Listeriosis Enterprise Foods Disaster

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?

Basic tips:

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:

  • It is about managing your projected virtual image to others with the goal to restore / build / maintain trust to increase or recover sales…
    Simple! It is about making money.

    Key words here are “managing” + “projected” because you are effectively manipulating online platforms to display what you want them to display.
  • More people research reputation before they conclude a transaction now than ever before.

    Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

  • Everyone can have an opinion about your products or services, regardless of whether or not they have used them, or whether the opinion is right or wrong. What is online first or trending is what people believe. Your online reputation and character is going to be what can be found on the first pages of search engines and the trending hash-tags. Not that which is printed on your company ethos in the office lobby.

    Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

  • With the above said, O.R.M. is not a clear-cut technical service or task defined by some marketing course – one could say it is pseudoscience… for the marketing world. You require a hybrid of a person, both computer nerd and socialite.

  • You cannot control search trends. We not only need to know how to technically work on web / social platforms but understand WHY the subject is trending and being shared. There is a cyber-phycology behind trend. Bad news spreads faster than good news. The nature of people is something we need to accept and build into our strategy.

  • Remind yourself what your image and brand is online, and then identify what part of your online character is under attack and not simply respond to the attack. Every action you take is about distracting from news you don’t control, and moving attention to news you do control, and that information has to remind people what the true brand image is.

  • Treat each online post as information on its own merit. Assess and respond. Don’t do a blanket response to all posts or opinions. Your response will fall flat and just be a waste of time and money. Online reputation or attacks are like being in a war from land, sea and air with a variety of weapons and enemies speaking all sorts of languages. You will get a better response if you treat the person behind the news rather than the news itself.

  • Some ORM enemies can be friends, staff or even suppliers!

  • Displacement is essential. This is the practice of moving a competitor or problem information to a lower or less accessible or visible area on the Internet; nice little image:

    Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

  • In a crisis, pay for position because the cost of placing your information above bad information can cost less than the lost revenue.

  • Set up basic monitoring tools on your own company AND competitors.

  • Create a schedule of positive, relevant and trending content. This is not an optional extra for company marketing teams to do. When things go bad, people look at your track record.

  • Regular online management requires the human element of engagement to maintain positions. Don’t forget this. Personal responses are necessary.

  • Make it easier for people to offer feedback, but incentivize people’s positive feedback through competitions, or some sort of loyalty reward. Make people want to complement rather than complain.

  • Do not ignore negative posts. Remove most of them, and keep a few where you can show you have responded and engaged and that it improved the situation.

  • Feedback for online channels must be communicated to marketing, product development and management teams each month.

  • Don’t wait for drama to happen to create a reaction plan. Have one ready and staff and suppliers briefed on first responses and actions, buying valuable time for the company to assess and plan a recovery.

    Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

  • Do not depreciate the use of brand advocates and influences during a crisis. This is your cavalry to call in and extra support during your war. It can include own staff, suppliers or external influences.

  • When applicable, work on copyright and related law or at least have an idea of which lawyer or professional to call on.

  • If available, take out insurances on high risk products / services. This is just logical.

  • Ensure you have control of all you handle/usernames, high profile employees and domains and access to online profiles. You can use these, often well positioned, platforms to share positive news in a crisis.

  • Create your own online ranking or rating system.

  • Ensure whatever you respond with is accurate and authentic. Research, plan, respond, assess and then plan again.


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:

  • 14 285 pages of bad news
  • 14 reports or titles per page.
  • Reach on actual social media platforms excluded here for the purpose of a summary in this article.

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.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

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.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

This was a very clever post, reasons I would go into detail in an actual presentation.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

This was also a very clever post.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

Negative reaction from people:

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

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.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

This was an example of a really damaging post.

Jean-Pierre Murray-Kline - Internet & Social Media Specialist

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”

They had:

  • They had a strategy.
  • They had a unified message.
  • They tried to move negative debate offline.
  • They managed information.
  • They engaged with primary role players.

Other side of the same coin, my summary of some recommendations I might have made if I were part of the task team:

  • I would have created a video – positive information. It is more shareable. I would have paid for position for this video.
  • Address main criticism – especially increasing visibility for corporate compassion.
    I would have boosted these responses, because it would have appeased a lot of people asking for answers.
  • Taken opportunities for engagement. Not just a phone line. Set up a few community discussions. Advertised these. Set up an information centre for people to visit at their head office. (Opening their doors) – Placing letter boxes for people to send messages to the company – and I would have made sure each letter received a response.
  • I would have used retailers to help communicate the situation and tried to make them influence positive information.
  • Tried to use the 1800 + staff to boost positive feedback. I would have spent a lot of time with staff. Their reputation and opinions needed to be addressed and cared for as well.
  • Aggressively shared information on how and where to get treatment.
  • Pay for positive news and positions on Google, Facebook and Instagram.
  • Set up a social media response team.
  • Attended select hospitals to show remorse even if it chased out.
  • Held a memorial for those who wished to attend.
  • Set up counselling opportunities.
  • I would have moved the apology onto the main post of the article so it would be easily seen. Also, updated senior staff and company online profiles and features to boost main messages of action and remorse.
  • Would have made offers to pay a provision towards funerals of the deceased.
  • Invited people into private settlement meetings.
  • Pursued the source of the actual contaminate. Made it extremely visible and public.

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

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