Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Senior Social Media Strategist Kyle Babson.

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If you logged onto Twitter this week, you probably noticed that Cinnamon Toast Crunch was trending—and not for a good reason. LA-based podcaster Jensen Karp found what appears to be shrimp tails in his box of the toasted cinnamon cereal, and the rest is internet history.

Providing good customer service on social media is crucial to any company’s social strategy, and with a few tweaks, we think Cinnamon Toast Crunch could have avoided this whole saga.

To catch you up, here’s a quick recap of what went down:

The first tweet and Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s initial response.

Taking customer complaints into direct messages is standard practice for customer care on social media, and it’s where the issue should have stayed until it was fully resolved.

Unfortunately, Cinnamon Toast Crunch decided to make a public statement denying the possibility that what Karp found was shrimp tailed. That’s where things took a turn.

Next, the brand dug its heels in by publicly denying any responsibility for the contaminated cereal.

During the back-and-forth conversation with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, memes surrounding the incident exploded on Twitter. The hashtag #CinnamonToastShrimp and #ShrimpGate began trending while chefs prepared Cinnamon Toast Crunch-coated shrimp (as a joke, we hope) and celebrities like Chance the Rapper got involved.

The Cinnamon Toast Crunch social media team then seemed to make a few strange requests like asking Karp to take his contaminated bag of cereal to local law enforcement.

How can brands avoid this type of crisis?

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Rather than simply comment on the hot topic of the week, we’d like to offer some suggestions for social media community management when dealing with a crisis.

1. Respond to the emotion, not the facts

It actually doesn’t matter if Karp found shrimp in his box of cereal or not. He’s convinced he did, and his 160K Twitter followers all believe him.

The emotion stirred up by this visual and belief is much stronger than any fact could ever be for disputing the claim. By taking the complaint seriously, the brand validates the feelings of the customer and the crowd.

In this case, Cinnamon Toast Crunch could have put a food scientist on Zoom to properly investigate the cereal box or sent a representative to show how seriously it was taking the matter. Any efforts along these lines would have been more appropriate given the intensity of the emotional response to shrimp in cereal.

2. Be as transparent as possible

People and brands make mistakes. Plenty of brands have recovered well from worse claims than a shrimp tail in a cereal box. But to do this, you have to own it, and show your process.

By hiding behind a keyboard and leaving the social media community manager as the only public-facing employee in the crisis, people view a brand as less human and more of a corporate monolith.

Instead, brands should be sharing the process of the investigation and assuring the public of their efforts to avoid anything like this in the future. Customers should be hearing from multiple people on the team and seeing their efforts to make things right.

3. Have a playbook, but be flexible

Every brand should have a social media playbook to guide their response to a social media crisis. Unfortunately, every social media crisis we’ve ever seen includes nuances you can never plan for.

Who would have expected shrimp in a cereal box? Could Burger King have predicted the backlash of its International Women’s Day tweet? Most likely, but you can’t prepare for everything.

However, you can expect the unexpected and understand your brand values well enough to know how your brand personality would respond. How do you react when you make a mistake as a company? Every brand should have a well-defined answer to this question.

The best way to move forward is to own up to the mistake and make it clear that there’s a plan in place to prevent the issue from happening again. Consumers can see through empty apologies. So, when you say you’re sorry, you’ve got to mean it.

Build a proactive social brand

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Embracing a proactive mindset when it comes to social media community management is an excellent way to grow brand awareness and stay engaged with your community, no matter what happens. Our team of skilled social media experts have helped national brands activate new social channels, launch busines-growing strategies, and integrate social into the total customer experience.

Care to learn more? Schedule a 15-minute chat with our team.

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