Veil, Shari R.; Reno, Jenna; Freihaut, Rebecca; & Oldham, Jordan (2015). Online activists vs. Kraft Foods: A case of social media hijacking. Public Relations Review, 41(1), 103-108. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2014.11.017

Summary

In April 2013, Vani Hari, activist and author of the blog Food Babe, petitioned Kraft to remove from their products the petroleum-based dyes that have been linked to ADHD and require a warning label in the European Union. A spokesperson for Kraft responded only that Kraft was following the FDA guidelines for what could and could not be in their products. The following month, Hari posted a hoax video showing a warning label on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in a U.K. grocery. Hari then used the video to spur her followers and those of other activist groups into hijacking Kraft’s Facebook page. This study examines the impact of the video hoax and a growing trend of activists using the target organization’s social media sites to propagate campaign messages opposing the target organization’s practices.

Method

The websites and blogs of Kraft and Food Babe were examined to identify official comments regarding the controversy. Media coverage of the case was then collected via a Google News search and examined to create a case timeline and narrative. An interview was conducted with Hari and a Kraft spokesperson provided statements via email. User generated comments added under Kraft’s posts on their Macaroni and Cheese Facebook page from May 28 to June 15, 2013 were collected and coded as either positive/neutral or negative.

Key Findings

  • Hari hand delivered a petition to Kraft headquarters. When no change was made based on the petition, she reached out to other activist organizations for help and built the “Foodbabe army” online.
  • In the two days before the hoax video was released 92.4% (n=110) of user comments were positive toward Kraft and 7.6% (n=9) were negative. Under the same post, after the video was released, only 3.8% (n=4) were positive and 96.2% (n=100) were negative.
  • Over the next two weeks Kraft posted three updates to Facebook generating 248 total comments of which 33.5% (n=83) were positive and 66.5% (n=165) were negative.
  • Negative comments were liked more than 50 times more than positive comments which means those who posted negative comments received positive feedback for doing so.
  • Once Kraft agreed to remove the suspect dyes from products targeted at children, 98.6% (n=141) of comments on an unrelated post were on the change in practice.

Implications for Practice

This study presents hoax and social media hijacking as viable strategies for activists to motivate organizations and dismisses the notion that “slacktivism” cannot lead to change. This study also demonstrates why public relations practitioners need to engage in more proactive issue management strategies. Hari moved the campaign to social media because Kraft refused a second meeting and wouldn’t return calls after the petition. We suggest that, if an organization is already working on a change that aligns with activist demands, creating a partnership with the activists to roll out the change is a more proactive and productive strategy than ignoring them while they attack you online.

 Article Location

The full article is currently available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/03638111/41/1

 

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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