Ragu Snafu: Social Media Disaster Teaches Valuable Lesson

Imagine throwing a party, you having great conversations with cool and interesting people and then some jerk pokes you on the shoulder, says you suck and walks away.  A version of this scenario played out in social media with Twitter as the party and Ragu as the jerk.  This post provides an in depth analysis of the Ragu Twitter disaster and highlights an emerging pattern from the WRD 525 blog showcasing how humanization and authenticity should be key objectives when writing for social media audiences.

Ragu Tweet 

Ragu was the star of a social media disaster in 2011 when they spammed dad bloggers with tweets that took them to a video  showing moms dissing on fathers for not being able to cook.  Ragu’s spam tweets weren’t just sent to any dad bloggers, they went out to those who were social media influencers and had mass followers.  Ragu was successful in getting attention but not in a good way as the misguided campaign resulted in an onslaught of immediate angered tweets and Facebook wall posts from daddy bloggers.  In response to the tweet, dad and professional marketer, CC Chapman, posted “Ragu Hates Dads” to his blog expressing his anger over the scenario which quickly went viral.  One day later on September 28, 2011, Chapman posted The Secret Sauce – Free Advice for Ragu  highlighting his thoughts on where Ragu went wrong including points about Twitter being a conversation, the importance of listening to your audience and keeping the door open for conversation.  Chapman concluded his blog by saying “Ragu, let’s discuss over dinner. Only rule is I get to cook.”  By 3pm that same day a brand manager from Ragu contacted Chapman and made an appointment to have a conversation.   So you may be wondering, other than asking Chapman to meet, what was Ragu’s response to the complaints it was receiving through social media.

………Crickets……….

A deafening silence from Ragu persisted for three days from their initial tweet until an impersonal and seemingly unapologetic reply was posted to social media from Ragu, the corporate entity, with no name in particular attached (view reply).   Ragu’s reply generically referenced the meeting with Chapman by saying they connected with one disgruntled father in particular to listen and ask for better ideas on how to engage dads.   From Chapman’s point of view, the meeting played out somewhat impersonally much like their social media campaign, he commented in his blog My Final Word on Ragu by saying, “This morning, I had a brief call with a manager from Unilever (Ragu’s parent company) and employees at two agencies.  I was not provided the names of these agencies, so I still don’t officially know who was involved — and at this point, I just don’t care.”  Chapman’s final thought in the blog stated “I’m still struck by that, in the past few days, this critical conversation has generated hundreds of comments, tweets and posts … and the brand has not replied to a single one of them. That’s shameful. Silence is not a solution in social media.”

The Ragu snafu, demonstrates an important lesson, traditional marketing techniques do not work in social media and can even backfire.  Creating a sense of authenticity and humanizing the brand are key ingredients for communicating through social media channels.  This theme has resurfaced again and again throughout posts to the WRD 525 blog.  The post, “Interested in starting a social media campaign for your small business? Read this first”  offers advice to business stating that they should be “1. active, 2. interesting, 3. humble, 4. unprofessional and 5. honest.  People will only consistently follow you if you are consistently giving them information or interacting with them. In addition to consistency, no one will follow you if you are boring.”  In the case of Ragu, they certainly weren’t boring and definitely showed a bit of unprofessionalism but they went wrong when they didn’t interact or bother responding to the angered tweets directed at them.  Perhaps if they got involved in the conversation and didn’t disappear the outcome would have been different.  Research shared in the post, CRM or CoRM: How Corporations Approach Twitter, conveys that in social media, people want to “see the wizard” behind the curtain that companies hide behind.”  This is another area were Ragu failed, when they tried to respond to the disaster they continued to hide behind their brand, even during the discussion with Chapman they managed to hold onto their corporate mask.   The post “If you build it, they will come: Twitter use in higher education” provides research that says “New media tools should be used to build humanistic, empathetic, and inspirational connections  — because that will fundamentally build the strongest relations.  The post continues to say “Many social media strategists refer to as “authenticity,” a voice that inspires original conversations and that takes advantage of the medium itself.”  Again, this is another area where Ragu failed.  They basically blasted people with impersonal marketing messages and demonstrated no interest in cultivating a relationship or even showing humility /empathy when tweeters began to convey their anger.

The body of collective work on WRD 525 blog has clearly highlighted that social media is about engagement, community, listening and interaction.   Ditching the “corporate voice,” adopting a more personable writing style, and interacting with customers are valued course takeaways.  While we may have learned a lesson from our body of work this quarter, the question is, has Ragu learned their lesson?  It appears so.  An abandoned CEO blog by Daniel Cooper, Ragu’s brand manager at the time, provided a sincere heartfelt apology for the incident and offered a coupon for a free bottle of sauce for those offended by the incident.  The timing of the post is unclear, it’s dated as February 22, 2012, approximately five months after the incident; however, the coupon was offered through October 15th, 2011.  Today, Ragu’s Facebook page demonstrates that they are engaging customers and interacting with them.  The majority of customer posts on the Ragu page are responded to with likes and comments from Ragu.  They can take criticism as well, this was demonstrated when one person commented on a post by Ragu saying they never eat their sauce.  Ragu replied with “You should give it a try.  I’m just saying…”

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