A reflection about the governance behind a “shitstorm” and how a content strategy might have handled this situation differently

It was late in March in Germany and a lawyer from Hamburg, called Joachim Steinhöfel had walked into a Karstadt shop. Karstadt is a food chain from Germany, which sells food from the chain REWE. Easter was nearing close and Steinhöfel grabbed a chocolate bunny to celebrate the season.
Upon checking his receipt however, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The easter bunny was titled “traditional rabbit”. Steinhöfel quickly posted the receipt to Facebook and it wasn’t long before the picture was irritating his followers. Erika Steinbach, a politician close to the German right wing, decided to share this finding instantly on her twitter account:

Tweet of Erika Steinbach

The reaction to this Tweet

Twitter as it often does, soon responded. Several people complained about the loss of Germany’s culture and norms. Soon it was interpreted, that the name of the easter bunny was changed in order not to hurt immigrants with non-christian religion – a sign of exaggerated political correctness.

In the dialogue this one Tweet created, you can observe that several users have already blacklisted shops that they won’t visit any longer because they feel this threatens “German culture” because the owners of the shops aren’t Germans. On top of that, there was a huge discussion about the big question… Was the easter bunny actually associated with Christianity at all? Or is it actually a Celtic symbol?

So, how did the responsible food chain behind Karstadt, called REWE, respond?

Seit 1992 bezeichnet REWE den Lindt Goldhasen, um den es sich hier handelt, am Regal und auf dem Kassenbon als „Traditionshasen“. Da es ihn nach unserem Kenntnisstand bereits seit den frühen 50er Jahren in Deutschland gibt, ist der Begriff „Traditionshase“ also durchaus treffend. 

REWE’s answer (scroll down till the 29. March …)

As you can see, the response was written in an unemotional, distanced and detached way. REWE explained, that the chocolate easter bunny of Lindt had been called a traditional rabbit since 1992, because Lindt created them a long time ago. This answer didn’t satisfy the online community, whose tweets and discussions continued.

Some reflection about governance and REWE’s response

Digital governance is described after Lisa Welchman as the «framework for establishing accountability, roles, and decision-making authority for an organisation’s presence (…)». Governance describes:

  • Who can decide what
  • What are the policies of the organisation
  • And which standards need to be followed

A large company such as REWE should have a large team managing its social media content and public image and who should be controlling and vetting the tweets of all their channels. When you read other content under REWE’s answers, you can see their content is quite freestyle, a personal way of communicating with their audience using emojis and gifs etc.

However in my eyes this particular answer I mentioned above was written by another individual. I can hear a legal expert coming through. This content might be approved by the head of communication, but when I compare it to other tweets on the channel.

I feel that there was consciously no adaption to the channel. This realisation made me ponder a lot. I wondered: Why do organisations not trust their content providers when it comes to a crisis? How come such a non-personal tweet not fitting to the usual tone and voice of REWE is published?

In my Masters of Content Strategy course in Graz, we had a very inspiring visit to Berlin to meet some content strategists from an Agency. During our visit on C3 agency, expert Tom Levine answered this general question about content in a time of crisis with a striking hypothesis.

Tom believes that it is still seen as risky to rely on content to deal with an evolving problem such as a shitstorm. In such situations, decision-making in companies is escalated upwards in the hierarchies – and on the top of Communication departments, decision-makers are rarely accustomed to social community management. Defensive responses with heavy involvement of the legal department are seen as safe choice, while few have experienced the benefits of an overall content strategist’s approach to such an issue.

If I do have a look at REWEs response, this seems quite likely to me. It looks as if the social media person lost ownership and other positions had acted on his or her behalf.

Reflections on REWE’s Response

Persona, Tone and Voice

So, what could have been different with a content strategy? First of all, as a content strategist we would try hard that the Tweet in question aligned with the other Tweets of REWE with regard to their tone and voice. Since we communicate on social media we would add relevant hashtags such as #traditionshase and #rewe #karstadt.

As content strategists, we know our target groups as personas and gaining an insight into their activities is part of our daily business. Hence we would consider the societal context too. We would attempt to address some of the fears in the Tweet and not just write «this is the way we always did things since 1992». Finally, as content strategist we would consider adapting the global taxonomy and terms of use in a way, which might prevent such misunderstandings in the future.

Reflection about REWE’s response: Creating omni-channel content

As content strategists we would also think about omni-channel content: Our set-up for efficient and flexible content creation includes the concept of success measurement. Fast and frequent monitoring with tools such as “Brandwatch” will show if other channels are affected. We would critically evaluate where it makes sense to enter into dialogue and where we could evaluate relevance with regard to our target group – be it Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or even YouTube, to mention just a few.

In order to lay out our position and to tell our version of the story, we would also create a landing page on our website, full of relevant keywords and maybe advertise with some Google Ads. Who knows, depending on the message architecture of our brand after Margot Bloomstein – there might be a possibility to add to that landing page a short video message.

Further ideas might include historical photos of the sweet chocolate rabbit, fun facts about its creation and sales over the years or even a personal statement from the person responsible for the entry into the database, some reasons why he or she chose this term? Such a landing page with additional material would allow to interact with the public on social media too, e.g. to add to every tweet and post a short comment like:

Hello xyz, it seems you are interested into the tradition rabbit. Learn more about them and their habitat in REWE (Link). Kind regards xyz for REWE.

Of course we would also prepare materials for the journalist: Extra material such as infographics, media package etc. could be sent in order to create beautiful articles about this media hype. Furthermore, our clarification of people and processes could enable fast and efficient content production.

But who knows, may Rewe considered all this ideas too and decided, that the way how they responded is the best way for them and the ressources that were available. However, I am big fan of the way how they communicate on social media anyway.

Further links for your interest

Frankfurter Allgemeine about the “shitstorm”

Managing Chaos by Lisa Welchman