Oct.13Crowdbabble overview showing a variety of stats. Are you accessing this page via a screen reader? I would love to help it work for you. Please email me at katie at crowdbabble dot com.

Nothing will boost your confidence as a marketing maven like reading about other brands’ social media fails. Watching a huge brand like McDonald’s struggle after a hashtag is hijacked acts as a kind reminder that even the most well-funded branding teams can mess up online.

Once bad press around a social media scandal has died down, how long do the effects last for a brand? Can social media mistakes be fatal?

On April 14 2014, US Airways accidentally tweeted a pornographic image involving a model US Airways plane to an irate customer. With 425,000 Twitter followers, the epic fail was quickly retweeted until it became the #1 trending topic in the United States.

Airplane pilot from movie Airplane sweating profusely, tweeted as US Airways social media manager

US Airways, owned by American Airlines, later determined that somewhere between flagging an inappropriate photo on Twitter and responding to the customer, the picture’s URL was copied and pasted into the wrong text area. Oops. How did the incident affect the brand? After five years in operation and more than 500,000 fans, @USAirways was shut down. But what happens when brands keep their accounts open after a scandal?

Smuckers gets itself into a jam

In mid-November 2014, Smuckers began deleting any fan posts to their Facebook page that criticized the company’s stance against GMO labelling. The quieting effect of the strategy was short lived — the press picked up the story, and fans who refused to be silenced began publishing their criticism on Smuckers’ new posts. The new posts, in turn, attracted received more likes than average for the page, giving the negative comments a wider reach. We used Crowdbabble’s analytics tools to call up a list of content published by Smuckers during the controversy to how angry fans smucked it up.

Angry Facebook post from user Tina Marie on Smuckers Facebook page saying she will not buy their products until they label their GMOs

At the height of the scandal in November 2014, the Smuckers Facebook page received 15,013 likes, with an average of 750 likes or comments per post. In contrast, for the same period in 2013 Smuckers received just 98 likes or comments per post and 2,468 likes total. The spike in attention around Smuckers’ gaffe was huge. Did the unflattering spotlight have any long-term effects?

The incident’s affect on Facebook page likes

The graph below captures likes for Smuckers’ Facebook posts from January 1 2013 to September 30 2015. It shows that the spike in likes in November around the brand’s decision to censor posts is followed by what appears to be steady series of viral posts.

Smuckers likes up over time

In January 2013, before the ill-fated censorship strategy, each Smuckers’ post received an average of 95 likes or comments per post. In January 2014, two months after the scandal, each Smuckers post received about 1,467 likes or comments. The attention around Smuckers’ comment deletion pushed brand engagement to new heights on Facebook for more than three months. Measuring likes, the long-term effects of the kerfuffle seem positive for the brand, creating viral posts in the early months of 2015 that were a dead period in the winter of 2014, and keeping likes high over the summer. That’s pretty sweet.

Spaceballs jammed

Likes were lower before the scandal, but they were also more stable (compare January-March 2014 and 2015). The brand’s bread and butter — posts frequently receiving between 1,000 and 5,000 likes — has disappeared, with big gaps between more successful posts.

Deleting comments can boost comments? 

Comments also received a boost from the incident after an initial dip. Short-term, Smuckers’ comment numbers plunged. In January of 2015, two months after the scandal, the page received 169 comments. This is a 78% decrease from the same period in 2014, before the comment deleting, when the page received 795 comments.

However, in the year following the snafu, comments are up overall. Using Crowdbabble we discovered that Smuckers’ comment proportion of engagement in the six months before the scandal was 1%, and only 1% of Smuckers posts received 100 or more comments. The deletion of anti-GMO posts ignited a surge in comments, as shown in the comment statistics from the past six months:

From April to October Smuckers comments were up to 3.6 percent

For the equivalent period in 2015, from April 1 to October 1 2015, comments made up 3.6% of all engagement on the page. 17% of Smuckers posts received 100 or more comments — that’s a 94% increase. You jelly? That’s Twitter-speak for jealous.

Fan posts are toast

Likes and comments per post are up, but fan-generated content is down; it seems that deleting fan posts so publicly has discouraged them. The graph below, generated using Crowdbabble’s customer service analysis, shows fan posts  to the Smuckers page over a two year period from May 2013 to September 2015.

Crowdbabble analysis of Smuckers' customer service response time and likes

Smuckers preserves growth despite scandal

What can you learn from the jam that Smuckers got itself into? Initially, the incident caused a flurry of negative attention, in the form of likes, and a deep dip in comments. However, in the long term, the mistake didn’t affect the brand page’s growth in terms of likes or comments — the initial spike in likes helped the brand bounce back from an initial dip.

Brand marred in lasting malady

The plummet in fan posts for Smuckers is the scandal’s real long tail. Fan posts are the most time-consuming form of engagement for a user on a brand’s Facebook page, and can indicate a greater depth of feeling — whether positive or negative — than a like or a comment. By deleting comments, Smuckers appears to have scared off its most dedicated fans. This could explain the increased instability in Facebook likes shown as shown in the first graph. The steady stream of likes per post before the scandal has been replaced by viral posts spread between dead periods that stretch for weeks.

On Twitter, Smuckers ignored anti-GMO tweets — the brand did not invalidate users by attempting to silence them. As a result, its positive and negative engagement numbers remained consistent through the winters of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. On Facebook, going on the offensive did not protect the brand, but instead fostered lasting instability. Smuckers approach to the same issue on Twitter  is a lesson on non-confrontation as a valid strategy.

With Crowdbabble, you can load your own social accounts or size up your competition to develop a crisis management strategy. Social media managers can learn a lot from Smuckers’ comment deletion: trading likes and comments for deeper forms of engagement and a steadier stream of impressions, the brand’s outlook on Facebook has changed. The brand can shift its strategy to capitalize on viral posts, and should pay more attention to nurturing dedicated users who will engage more deeply and more often.

To measure the effects of your own social media trials and triumphs, login to your Crowdbabble account and explore likes, comments, and depth of engagement over any time period. By understanding how your brand has fared after a gaffe, you can pinpoint the gaps in your strategy and make the most of your mistake.
Learn from the Smuckers comment deleting scandal on Facebook to protect your brand from marketing crises.