Spray and Pray: Managing a Potential PR crisis

Claire Volker Submitted by on the 23rd of November 2016

Doom can strike when you least expect it. Recently, posts went viral on social media containing images of Limpopo-based ‘Prophet’ Lethebo Rabalago spraying Doom insecticide on members of his congregation, claiming it can help to ‘cure’ them of their illnesses.

cartoon

Photo cred: Dr Jack & Curtis, EWN Cartoon, 21 November 2016.

As might be expected, social media users have expressed shock and outrage. The conversation started rising in volume on 21 November, with EWN reporter Aki Anastasiou seeing the most engagement on his update in which he said that he found the practice disturbing.

Tiger Brands, the manufacturers of Doom, released a statement on the matter. They urged Rabalago to stop spraying individuals with the insect killer as it’s harmful to humans, and this is explicitly stated on the warning label of the canister. At time of publishing, it appeared that Tiger Brands hadn’t made any contact with him.

The company’s statement received mixed reaction from online users, particularly on Twitter. While some praised the brand for speaking out, others felt that they were not relevant in the conversation to begin with and that it was not necessary to get involved. A handful of users also accused the brand of receiving free PR from the Doom saga.

Overall, the statement appears to have had little impact and the social media conversation machine has continued its relentless march. At the time of publishing, the conversation around Doom and the ‘Prophet’ had attracted 13 243 mentions (and counting) over the past 24 hours. The conversation including Doom and Tiger Brands had gained just 682 mentions, making their effort seem relatively meaningless.

graph of mentions of Tiger Brands and Doom in a 24hour period

The conversation trend over a 24-hour period, the red line showing mentions of Tiger Brands and Doom.

However, Cerebra’s experts hold a different opinion.

Saying Something vs Saying Nothing at all

“I would certainly advise them to act as they have done in this situation”, says Mike Oelschig, Head of Advisory and Insights at Cerebra. In Mike’s opinion, saying nothing is riskier and poses a bigger threat to the brand, regardless of them not holding liability in this instance. “If anyone holds liability, it’s the pastor, not the product.”

“Having released a statement shows that the brand cares about the health and safety of consumers,” says Mbali Zondo, a PR account manager at Cerebra, “and they’re proactively trying to educate individuals about the harmful risks of insect killer.”

Despite not having relevance in the conversation to begin with, keeping quiet could have resulted in users accusing the brand of not caring about their products. In this instance, the product was misused completely, and has then been shared thousands of times on social media. Being proactive and taking action was the best choice in this instance.

The lesson here is that the unpredictable world of social media means that at any moment your product (or service for that matter) could be misused, leading to a range of emotions expressed online. Are you equipped as a business to deal with it? Do you have a plan in place for when the Prophet of Doom (so to speak) strikes your business?

Cerebra recently launched The Social Media Crisis Handbook, which any business will  find irreplaceable in preparing for and managing an unforeseen situation like this one.  If you’d like more info about the Handbook or any of our services, feel free to contact us at info@cerebra.co.za.