The dark side of social media

Do you buy Nature Valley crunchy bars? We love them here at Lindop Towers.

But there’s trouble in the valley at the moment. Copywriter Anne Maybus ofย  Clever Streak mentioned it this week in a Facebook group we both belong to. It’s scary stuff for anyone who uses social media to promote their business, which is why I wanted to tell you about it.

Around a week ago, a blogger accused Nature Valley of using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their products. She didn’t give any evidence for this at all, just mentioned it as fact. A comment was made on the Nature Valley Facebook page along the lines of “why do you use GMO products in your bars?” and since then a flood of negative comments have poured onto the Nature Valley Facebook page.Take a look here:

I would like to give you links to the original blog post but I didn’t bookmark it and now there are so many comments on the Facebook page I can no longer get back to the original one.

Does Nature Valley use GMO ingredients? I have no idea, but a quick Google search suggests there’s not much hard evidence that they do.

Here’s what’s scary though: one accusation from a single blogger with zero evidence has caused complete chaos.

What’s more, Nature Valley have done absolutely nothing about it on their Facebook page.

I don’t think they are blissfully unaware of the chaos, because they’ve gone from posting almost daily to no posts at all since 1st December. Personally, I think they are doing nothing until they talk to their legal team. Understandable in the old pre-social media world, but these days a delay like this is causing untold damage to their brand.

What scares me most is how Facebook users have blindly believed this claim and not bothered to check the evidence. If it’s on the internet then it must be true, eh?

So what does this mean for those of us running far smaller businesses?

  • Keep a close eye on your social media profiles.
  • ‘Going viral’ is usually considered to be goodย  for marketing, but it can also have its dark side. More on this next week in my review of the book The E-Factor: Entrepreneurship in the Social Media Age.
  • You need to respond promptly to any comments on your social media profiles, especially negative ones.
  • People have very short attention spans when they are online and many won’t bother to check the facts before taking action.
  • Be careful when making claims about other companies on your blog. I wouldn’t want to be in the blogger’s shoes when the lawyers get on the case. Especially since Nature Valley is just a brand of General Mills, one of the largest food companies in the world.

I’ll be watching how this pans out with interest.

What are your thoughts on this? Please do leave me a comment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

11 Replies to “The dark side of social media”

  1. I think this is one reason why it’s great being a small business – we can react faster when needed. The Facebook silence in this case is damning and it looks as if the page has been abandoned – I wonder how many comments were deleted before they just gave up?
    You make a great point – if you do receive bad comments, respond promptly (and politely).

    1. I agree, it’s much easier to make decisions and act quickly in a small business. I think the more personal relationship we have with out clients is a big help too.

  2. Obviously the first thing that popped in my mind was, I wonder if they haven’t responded because they can’t deny it? And then another thought came to me, in that if I really liked the bars (sorry, not a fan) I probably would still be eating them, as I suppose most typical average families would. Equally, perhaps like you say they have a team of legal experts now telling them to not talk about the whole thing while to contact the blogger to get her to retract her statement (if it were untrue) – complete speculation of course ๐Ÿ™‚
    But I understand your bigger concern as to how a small business could avoid or work around something like this without the man power of deep purses of the larger corporations.
    A part of me thinks that if someone is out to get you, they will try how ever and what ever means that they can, and sometimes we have to trust that dwelling on the negatives and focussing energies on moving forward may be a better way. And if you have good supporters, they will usually come out in support (fingers crossed!) Equally, the speed at which social media works, things will usually get forgotten quickly, as everyone moves on to the next more exciting news.
    Onwards and upwards! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I wonder if it’s extremely hard to say 100% that there are no GMOs in your products in the US? I believe GMOs are more widespread there than in the UK and if you have a factory that manufactures multiple products there’s the possibility of cross-contamination. I wonder if that could be a reason for the delay. Or of course they could be guilty and trying to decide what to do next.

      While I have heard of small businesses having to deal with nasty PR surprises, I think there are generally fewer people out to get us than there are for big brands. As I mentioned above, we tend to have a better relationship with our audience and can respond faster. And our claims are usually more believable than one of the largest food companies in the world claiming its products are natural when everyone knows they must be mass produced on an industrial scale.

      And I agree, it’ll be old news soon enough!

  3. I think you are right. From a science point of view, there isn’t a real way of containing GM crops, thinking about wind drifts and other natural causes (migratory birds). I THINK (don’t quote me on this) there was a study somewhere that showed how GM crops in the US affected crops in Africa. I suspect that GM is actually a lot more widespread than we think.

    1. Yes, it certainly sounds like a tricky situation from a legal point of view. Although you’d think that a company selling a product with ‘nature’ in the title would be prepared for it because it was bound to arise at some stage.

  4. I run a network group called Wightbuzz and have had some people who would prefer me not to succeed. Negative posts appeared on my wall. It would be easy to remove the post but it may have already been seen by lots of people and then it would look like I had something to hide. I merely came in with appropriate comments. In a couple of cases, it was (now ex) members. They were trying to bully me (hmmmmm don’t think they knew I had a 30 year teaching background and would never entertain bullying of any kind!) I defended myself in polite but firm comments. They didn’t like it and actually removed themselves from my network group as they had made themselves look very silly and then felt uncomfortable.

    In another situation – a local establishment had issues with one of my members. They tried to get me involved in their war!! My member is a great ambassador for Wightbuzz and I have absolutely no problem with him. Let call the local establishment A . Well A, hiding behind facebook chat, tried to engage me in a conversation months earlier about a member but they didn’t name the member. I suggested we meet for coffee but they weren’t brave enough! A had several attempts at trying to bully me to evict the member. When they failed miserably as I ignored the facebook chat comments, they then took the rather foolish step of posting on their page that none of my wightbuzz members were welcome in their establishment. Clearly this was to get a reaction from me but I just ignored it. What happened was that many of my members were up in arms with A! Some commented that the establishment must be making sooooooo much money they didnt need any more trade! as if……. One of my members rang then up and told them to remove the post which eventually they did. Little damage done to me but I feel they made themselves look very silly!

    Onwards and upwards but it pays to keep an eye on what is being said about your brand/company so you can react accordingly.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Lyn. They certainly show that you don’t need to be a big corporation to have people out to get you on social media! Hats off to you for standing up to them – I sometimes find my teaching experience is useful in dealing with certain adults, too ๐Ÿ™‚

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