How to Deal with Brand Controversy on Social Media

Janice Person, Monsanto @JPlovesCOTTON

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Janice Person, Monsanto @JPlovesCOTTON

Janice Person, Monsanto @JPlovesCOTTON

Janice Person, Social Media Director for Monsanto, joins the Social Pros Podcast this week to discuss dealing with controversy on social media, respecting transparency, and proactive versus reactive social media strategies.

Read on for some of the highlights and tweetable moments, or listen to the full podcast.

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Tweetable Moments

“Respect, transparency, and integrity are the absolute, all the time.” -@JPlovesCOTTON (tweet this)

When to Engage?

Monsanto’s social media team is a part of their corporate affairs department. They work alongside media relations and branded communications. Within their team, they specialize with some of them focusing on certain brands Monsanto owns (DEKALB or Delta Pine, for example) or platforms.

When dealing with some of the controversy surrounding a few of her brand’s products, Janice says that it’s not a question of how to behave; it’s a question of when to engage. Her team knows to be courteous, respectful, and as transparent about the brand as possible. “If you’re having a face-to-face discussion, you can count on a certain amount of mutual respect,” she says. But “sometimes in social media, those norms seem to be a little different.” It’s vital that her team adhere to the same standard of integrity on the internet as they would in person.

If they decide to engage in a discussion about Monsanto products, the goal is to educate. “We need to make sure that our information, our perspective, is out there in a way that people who are interested can find it.” It’s a prime opportunity to listen and address concerns that people have.

It’s a fine balance between proactive and reactive. They monitor conversations on various social media outlets while also creating content allowing people to see behind the scenes in the lives of Monsanto farmers. From the Monsanto blog to the America’s Farmers campaign, the social media team makes sure to address negativity while also creating positive content surrounding the brand.

Social Media Stat of the Week: 20 Years since The One to One Future

This week, it has been 20 years since The One to One Future was first published and revolutionized the marketing world. This book challenged the idea that you had to reach mass audiences with marketing and focused on a new thesis: that focusing on making a direct connection with the right consumer will be far more profitable.

The One to One Future

Today, the technology has finally caught up with their vision with ad-targeting, the ability to collect information about how people interact with various types of marketing, and the widespread use of the internet. Many of the technologies mentioned in the book are outdated, but the ideas are still highly relevant to today’s marketers and impressively ahead of their time.

Holy Social!

Earlier this week, Walmart’s social media page shared an inappropriate post on Facebook. It was only up for about 5 minutes, but at that point had received thousands of likes, comments, and shares.

Walmart Facebook Oops

We should maybe take it as an encouraging sign that the media didn’t jump on the story, because truthfully there really is no story to tell. The accessibility of social media makes it easier to make a mountain out of a molehill, but there’s no reason for someone to get dragged to the gallows for something so inconsequential.

Jeff points out that it’s a good opportunity for Walmart to evaluate their process. Is it a systemic failure? A failure of a human being? A repeated failure? If it’s systemic, fix the system. If it was a person, was it intentional? Has this happened before? If not, then let it be and move on.

Four Your Information

How did you get involved in social media?
Janice says she has always been a communicator. With family scattered across the country, she was able to take her personal passion and make it professional.

What do you like best about social media?
“I love that small groups of people, or individual voices, can be heard through social media.” Distinct from journalism where big groups dictate the conversation, social media lets the little guy have a real voice as long as he’s cultivating valuable relationships.

What do you like least about social media?
Social media, Janice says, allows people to silo themselves in echo chambers. “With social media, you frequently have outlets that only represent one perspective.” Headlines can get people riled up when they haven’t even read the article. “You can prove yourself right 24 hours a day.”

If you could do a Skype call with any living person, who might that be and why?
The Dalai Lama. “He has this tranquility, and this ability to slow down and focus on whoever he’s talking to.”

See you next week!

  • Jules Webb

    On one hand I can’t believe you gave Monsonto any press at all, on the other I guess they would be the perfect case study since they’re probably the most controversial corporation on the planet. If you truly knew the ill effects Monsonto has set into motion (world wide) in my heart I have to believe you wouldn’t have selected them for this interview.

    Strike one…

    • jaybaer

      Thanks for the comment Jules. Social Pros doesn’t take sides. We care about how companies handle their social media and content marketing. Monsanto has an interesting story to tell that will benefit other industry professionals, regardless of whether they are fans of the company or not. Lots of companies on Social Pros have detractors. But that’s not relevant to what the podcast is about.

      • Jules Webb

        Jay I want you to know that I’ve taken a lot of time to formulate my response because my goal is not to put you on the defensive but rather to make you thoughtful.

        The perspective you’re sharing does make sense from a certain point of view, but from a larger context you can’t avoid the fact that your choice has moral consequences whether you appreciate that it does or not.

        By presenting what Monsanto is doing on social media outside the context of it’s effect on the world, you’re reducing an issue from it’s larger context. Though this makes what you’re doing seem reasonable please remember that with the capacity to shape perspective comes a real moral responsibility.

        • jaybaer

          Fair enough.

    • Janice Person

      Hello Jules. I don’t think we have met but I would be glad to discuss any of the problems you have with the company. I am not sure whether you have had a chance to get to know us directly but in my experience, there is a lot to be learned through dialog even with people who strongly disagree.


    Hi Jay and Janice,

    Thank you for the podcast.

    I applaud Montsanto for taking social by the horns and being proactive in providing transparency and empowering their employees to have a voice over social channels. And I love that they social is integrated into their strategy and channels aren’t just being used to broadcast but to educate, engage and make virtual handshakes with the community — it’s not a given that all companies will have the courage or the vision to tackle this (yet).

    I look forward to more Social Pro podcasts. This one is definitely on my replay list!