Food Safety and Social Media: An Integrated Approach

Text by DANNA PEÑA

In a world of interconnected screens and Wi-Fi-driven news, brands and orga­nizations must take precautionary mea­sures in handling potentially “viral” food safety crises.

Gone are the days when complaints are conveyed through telephone calls, snail mails, and face-to-face conversations with a brand’s staff member. Today, with a simple mobile phone and an Internet connection, consumers can unleash damaging brand reviews for all the public to witness. This audience does not only include local citizens - in some unfortunate cases, “trending” or viral brand complaints may reach an international crowd as well.

The chaos of a viral food brand crisis can travel through light­ning speed. With the advent of social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to name a few, companies must always be on the lookout for any content that may negatively affect their brand. Social media users, besides mindlessly posting mouthwatering food shots and checking in their favorite restaurants through apps, likewise do not hold back from revealing scathing remarks about any negative food experience they encounter.

The Philippines, once dubbed as the selfie capital of the world, is not one to shy away from posting content on social media. Despite the nation having one of the slowest broadband speeds in the Asia Pacific, its growth in Internet usage is relentless. According to the Digital 2017 study conducted by international agency We Are So­cial, the Philippines ranks number 1 in the time it spends on social media with an average of 4 hours and 17 minutes. Furthermore, the social media penetration rate of the Philippines is higher than Southeast Asia’s average of 47 percent with its 58 percent rate.

Clearly, the tech-savvy and engaged social media audience in the Philippines makes it all the more crucial to address food safety and risk communication through social media channels. Pre-planning, along with monitoring and quick responsiveness, are essential for food brands and food-related organizations in addressing concerns.

Preparing Your Online Crisis Management Plan

To combat sparks of outrage, or to prevent them from happening at all, an organization must be prepared in dealing with netizens’ concerns. An organization’s social media channels must be pre­pared with FAQs, contingency plans and a social media-educated staff to manage any brand crisis that arises.

FAQs. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or Questions and Answers (Q&A) lists down common concerns and answers to each one. Food brands, as well as any food-related organization, should have a ready-made list that can be utilized for social media channels. To quicken the response online, organizations must have digital copies of their FAQs that can easily be referenced to online.

Contingency Plan or “Plan B”. This is a course of action de­signed to effectively respond to situations that may or may not happen. Food crisis is a sensitive topic that must be addressed with quick reverts. Common examples of food crises are foreign materials found in food, improperly cooked or handled food, or poor customer service. To determine the graveness of each con­cern, an organization must do the following:

  1. Analyze possible risks
  2. Map out likelihood and impact of risks
  3. Develop an escalation process and brand messaging procedure
    1. Ask pertinent information regarding concern: Name, location of establishment, date and time of visit, nature of complaint, and other crucial details
    2. Key points of contact
  4. Establish alternatives and/or compensation

Educate employees. Social media management is either done in-house or conducted by another company. Whether or not this function is outsourced, the company’s employees must be informed of the processes, responses and action plans conducted by a brand’s social media manager. Typically, social media managers en­gage with customers, deal with customer support issues and keeps an eye out for critical content online. Armed with an FAQ and a con­tingency plan, brands can efficiently address concerns, ultimately providing customers with quick and helpful feedback.

Monitoring the digital space

Once the staff has been trained and all necessary online crisis management materials have been finalized, vigilant monitoring of social media channels should be practiced. Besides surveilling social networking channels, a tip for food brands would be to scour food review websites and forums to get the overall brand perception of netizens.

Since the digital space runs 24/7, it would be nearly impossible to respond to each and every query in a matter of a few minutes. For transparency, inform customers of your organization’s busi­ness hours by displaying it on your social media channels. This will assure customers that they will get a response during your stated business hours. If concerns are critical, place a hotline or contact detail that they can refer to when the urgent need arises.

Enforcing your online crisis management plan

The keys to enforcing an online crisis management plan are through quick speed of response, proper escalation, and consis­tent follow ups. Professionalism and efficiency are essential in each of these action steps to control damaging situations from rising. With food safety and risk management being sensitive topics, it is a necessity for an organization to display their concern and cooperation towards customers who experience a negative situation.

Social media: Crises turned into opportunities

Social media, with all its advantages, can come with a price to pay. With its accessibility and transparency as a food safety and risk communication tool, an organization must be extra vigilant in handling reviews that may potentially tarnish its reputation. Once a netizen posts an injurious photo or a negative review against a brand, rebuilding trust with consumers, stakeholders and the general public will not be an easy feat to conquer.

By integrating social media into crisis management efforts for your food business or food-related organization, negative per­ceptions can be prevented or mitigated. With smart and proper handling of social media channels, crises can be turned into opportunities. For food brands and organizations, the key goal of utilizing social media, besides reaching out to consumers, should be to efficiently maintain operations if disasters occur. By being prepared, vigilant and proactive in the social media space, brands and organizations alike can work together with consumers for a safer, healthier and overall better food experience.

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