When the Sh*t Hits Your Fans: Social Media Issues Management for Pet Products

We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: for pet brands and people alike, social media is no longer a land of sunshine and rainbows (or rainbow-tailed cat memes). Once brands started entering the social game, people took note and embraced an entirely new channel for reaching out with questions — and often, complaints.

This evolution means that it’s not enough to post fun pet pictures and ignore the complaints in your inbox. Customers have spoken, and social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are key channels for customer complaints, per social media management tool Sprout Social:

Source: “Call-Out Culture: People, Brands and the Social Media Power Struggle,” Sprout Social, https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/q3-2017/


If your team isn’t equipped to deal with customer complaints on social media, they can quickly escalate into larger issues that impact other areas of your business. They might even reach crisis level.

So what’s a pet brand to do with the breeding ground that is social media? You may not be able to stop a post from catching fire — actually, chances are this will be nearly impossible — but you can keep a close eye on the posts rolling in and see if they exhibit four telltale signs of snowballing from a small-scale issue to a system-wide crisis. These four signs mark the viral tipping point; here’s a rundown of each.


Viral Tipping Point Sign #1: Post Origin

            We hate to break it to you, but chances are that the posts that are most likely to cause the biggest customer service headaches are also least likely to be made on your owned channels. Rather than posting to your Facebook wall or sending you a direct message on Twitter, most social media complaints will be lodged on personal profiles. This could be a photo shared from a personal Facebook profile but shareable to the larger public, a clever tweet complete with your branded hashtag, some misinformation shared in a Facebook group or Reddit thread, or a particularly negative review posted on Consumer Affairs or Dog Food Advisor.

Wherever the post is, it’s probably not on the pages you manage day in and day out, which makes your social listening and monitoring strategy all the more important. It’s crucial that you have the right tools in place to keep an eye (or ear?) on the chatter occurring on non-owned channels. And keep in mind that due to privacy restrictions that vary by platform, you may not even have access to see or respond to every post. Facebook keeps personal profiles and groups off the grid for brands, meaning you won’t be notified about posts unless you’re tagged in them. Twitter, Instagram and other platforms make content more discoverable but still present limitations depending on the privacy settings of individual users.   


Viral Tipping Point Sign #2: Timing

Social posts that escalate tend to be made at the wrong place for brands — and also at the wrong time. By this, we mean that it’s almost as if customers pick the most inconvenient times to publish those destined-to-be-viral posts. This might include weeknight evenings when your customer service team isn’t manning the phones, holidays like Memorial Day when your social media team isn’t monitoring your channels, or Sunday at 12:45 a.m. when they’re tending to a sick pet at the emergency vet. Posts made in these off hours are at greater risk of taking flight because they may go unnoticed by your team even as they’re racking up likes and shares.

In social media, timeliness is key, and hours of silence from a brand can cost a lot. A survey conducted by Convince & Convert found that 32 percent of customers who contact a brand on social media for customer service expect a response within 30 minutes and 42 percent expect one within 60 minutes. Thus, it’s essential that your team is prepared to respond as soon as possible.

Even without a 24/7 response team, you can equip your brand for success with a little preparation, such as having preapproved responses and FAQs drafted, or standardized best practices for response writing.


Viral Tipping Point Sign #3: Passion

Almost all customer complaints — regardless of channel — have one thing in common: emotion. When a pet parent takes to social media to share their concerns, they are often sad or angry. They may be dealing with an animal that’s very ill or even mourning a pet that passed away. When a poster is highly emotional, their passion shows in their post and resonates with others. In fact, a 2012 Journal of Marketing Research study found that content that makes people angry is 34 percent more likely to go viral.

Consider the first two tipping point signs the tinder, and passion the fuel — with emotions in place, a post is much more likely to catch fire. Your brand can’t eliminate the anger, fear or anguish the customer emotes in their post, but you can do your best to respond with empathy and present a clear, committed solution.


Viral Tipping Point Sign #4: Engagement

For pet brands, social platforms can be doubly dangerous; not only are customers given a digital soapbox to make their not-so-nice opinions about your product known, but they’re also rewarded by algorithms as their complaints rack up engagement. As posts are shared, commented on, reacted to and retweeted, they show up more prominently on the social networks, sparking the digital wildfire that your brand can’t always contain.

It’s totally possible for a post to have the first three signs of the viral tipping point but never quite gain momentum because eyes just aren’t on it. When a post meets the first three criteria and starts to snowball in terms of engagement, you know you have an issue on your hands — one that can spread beyond social to burden your customer service team, sales reps, and even your retail partners who may have to deal with concerned customers or increased returns.

That’s why tracking post engagement is crucial. Knowing the volume of increase in shares can help you understand the magnitude of the situation, ensuring you’re prepared to respond in kind. You’ll be able to better anticipate issues that may spread into other areas of your business and better contain them.


When Digestive Issues Turn into Business Issues

With more and more pet parents adopting a self-diagnosis mentality and distrust in pet food brands growing with each new recall, it’s in your company’s best interests to take these four signs to heart. Know them, recognize them and take action when they come across your social feeds. Or, even better, take the time now to do some preparation before issues crop up.

Once you know the signs that herald a larger-scale issue, you can better help your brand recover. But you’ll never quite move on if you’re always in the defensive position. In our next issues management-focused post, we’ll cover how to make the transition from reactive to proactive, positioning your brand as a trusted authority through your content.

In the meantime, we can provide some help when it comes to arming your team with the issues management tools and processes you need — check out our resources on the topic.