Social Media has an Effect on Food Companies

by Rachel Baker on July 21, 2014

Social media is a powerful tool for change, whether it effects politics or the ingredients food companies use in their products. Just remember what Peter Parker’s grandma said though: “With great power comes great responsibility!”

Companies are now trying to ensure their products are not the next pink slime, even if they are usually hesitant to acknowledge that any changes in ingredients or corporate policy are the direct result of an online petition.

“The impact [of these petitions] cannot be underestimated. It’s something we watch very carefully on behalf of our clients,” said Josh Morton, director of corporate communications, crisis and issues management at GolinHarris, a public relations firm based in Chicago. But each petition needs to be put into the context of a larger social media conversation — and sometimes a mommy blog post is just as important as a petition itself, he added.

When it comes to petitions, it’s often less about the number of signatures — which often only require a click — and more about the audience as well as the trajectory of the petition, explained APCO’s Musiker.

Companies are not helpless. They and their PR consultants use sophisticated social media monitoring, or “listening” tools, including things like word clouds, maps and graphs designed to give companies a better idea of who is talking about their brands and what they are saying. Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has its own central command post in Geneva, Switzerland, that eavesdrops on consumers engaged on social media across the globe.

Interestingly, on Change.org, users who sign food-related petitions are much more engaged than other users, signing on average more than three times as many petitions, according to company data provided to POLITICO. Food petition signers are also overwhelmingly female and skew much older than the average Change.org user. They’re more likely to be between the ages of 45 and 65, versus 25 and 45.

Fighting food: Consumers revolt online

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