‘Crisis’ is a dirty word – how Femfresh could have handled their social media backlash

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In the last few days you might have seen the word vagina bandied about a fair bit online, and not just in the murkier corners of the internet.

In the US, Representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House, ostensibly for ‘permissive’ language, after using the word ‘vagina’ in front of the Michigan legislature in a debate about abortion.

Hot on the heels of this came the Femfresh debacle. Femfresh is a ‘feminine hygiene’ brand which has a new marketing campaign. Its ‘expert care for down there’ campaign has been broadcast in traditional one-way media: radio and out-of-home advertising.

However when Femfresh brought it into social media – a conversational media – things took a different turn. Consumers could respond to the campaign, and respond they did.

Femfresh became the target for an unrelenting stream of criticism on Facebook for its ‘go woohoo for your frou-frou’ campaign that also seemed to suggest that vagina is an unacceptable word.

Whether or not it was infantilising women, or trying to break taboos is a moot point. Femfresh had a crisis on its hands.

Here’s three things Femfresh could have done:

1. Respond to each comment to explain and wait for it to die down.

Probable outcome: a long time-intensive process, likely to further inflame critics. With no firm closure to the incident it would have prolonged the resolution of the crisis. The issue could possibly just rumble on, ready to blow up again in the future.

2. Make a simple, human statement outlining the facts of the matter, taking appropriate responsibility, explaining what the outcome or change would be of this incident and saying sorry. Then push the story down their Facebook Timeline with positive stories and status updates.

Probable outcome: it would have inflamed some critics, but assertively dealt with the issue. Again fairly prolonged resolution but at least putting a credible position from which to recover.

3. Use it as a catalyst for business transformation. Use that rare opportunity of public scrutiny and turn the negative passion into positive. Take the backlash on the chin, engage directly with the critics and influencers, and as a result of their feedback, change the campaign or even the company. Wholefoods turned from crisis to case study in just this way.

Probable outcome: it would have fuelled more debate, but Femfresh would have a chance to turn some of its detractors into advocates. It would be a resource investment. But it could take that valuable feedback from its customers, change its marketing, improve its products and build a better business.

We’re yet to see what the long term impact of the Femfresh backlash will be. Unfortunately the company chose to take its Facebook page down – which is a missed opportunity.

The moral of this story has to be if you court consumer engagement, be prepared for what you get. And perhaps further, that if customers care enough to respond to you, recognise that for the gift it is: be grateful and use that feedback to build a better company.

Image credit: debaird on Flickr

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6 Responses
  • Ade
    Jun 29, 2012

    It’s an interesting summary, but I feel you’ve missed quite a significant aspect of the crisis – it may have been catalysed by the advertising campaign, but a significant volume of the criticisms were more addressed at the very nature of the product. They felt that the product was created to solve of non-existent problem, and one that suggested women should be in some way ashamed of their bodies.

    When your brand has such a toxic reputation amongst a significant proportion of your target audience, maybe Facebook just isn’t the platform you should be using to engage?

    Ade Jun 29, 2012
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  • RedHead
    Jun 29, 2012

    Its page is still up – they closed it, opened a new one where the same thing happened, and opened their old one again but disabled the ability to post.

    RedHead Jun 29, 2012
    Reply
  • Jun 29, 2012

    Ade – You’re right, the comments on the Femfresh page ranged from genuine criticism of the product category through to questions around attitudes to women and their bodies – and beyond. But I didn’t want to get into that particular debate and look at the handling of the incident itself.

    As to whether Facebook is the right platform for a brand, I think that really depends on whether a significant community of interested parties is there already, or is likely to go there to engage with a brand. I couldn’t tell you whether that’s the case for Femfresh without doing some homework, but it did have upwards of 5,000 likes before the site came down. Not inconsiderable.

    Jane Franklin Jun 29, 2012
    Reply
  • Jun 29, 2012

    RedHead – thanks for the update. Wonder if they’ll open up commenting again.

    Jane Franklin Jun 29, 2012
    Reply
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