Written by Anna-Lena Georg
BLOG POST 2 - Bertolli’s corporate blog, the #dishstorm and its consequences
After the theoretical exploration of the concepts of credibility, the importance of corporate blogs for companies and the distinctiveness of the blogosphere, I will now go into more detail. The company Bertolli experienced a shitstorm on the Facebook page of its corporate blog due to a wrong behavior in the blogosphere, harming the company’s credibility. Let’s see what happened.
What happened? The case
On January 26, 2015 the corporate blog from Bertolli, Piazza Italia, posted a commercial link as a comment on an independent food blog post on Facebook linking to a recipe in their blog (2015). Piazza Italia posted the same link to one more independent food blog and one company website, called Chefkoch.de. The food blogger immediately answered that this is not the ‘fine art’ of social media. However, this wasn’t all. The food blogging community was outraged. It has a large fan base throughout the social media network, which makes it very influential towards customers (Wachter, 2015). The very well connected community avenged themselves on Piazza Italia for this unwanted and invaluable comment. They started a ‘dishstorm’, a shitstorm but with humor and class. The food bloggers started to turn the tables. They posted links to dishes on their own blogs as comments to two of Piazza Italia’s posts on Facebook (2015).
With their ‘dishstorm’ they created a very unique answer and a way to show displeasure with companies’ behavior. It forced the company to admit its failure and non-respectful behavior within the blogger community. Furthermore, Bertolli publicly apologized on its Facebook page. With that apology the company made another blunder as it threw the company Chefkoch.de in the same pot as the independent food bloggers with which the food bloggers do not want to be compared with. It showed again that the agency behind Piazza Bertolli, which is responsible for the company’s social media operations, is not familiar with the environment it is working in.
The ‘dishstorm’ resulted in 201 comments (Please use “201 comments” as the anchor text for the following link: https://www.facebook.com/Bertolli1865/photos/a.349219225149597.81363.306242006113986/827156370689211/?type=1&theateron) to Piazza Italia’s post on Facebook from January 22nd (2015) as well as 76 comments (Please use “76 comments” as the anchor text for the following link: https://www.facebook.com/Bertolli1865/photos/a.349219225149597.81363.306242006113986/829309727140542/?type=1&theater) to a post from January 26th (2015). As a corporate blog Bertolli clearly violated the social rules. The circumstances show that the environment it is operating in has not been deeply explored by the responsible media agency. Social rules should be known and followed as Barwise & Meehan (2010) advice. The behavior of Piazza Italia shows that Huyse (2007) was right in saying that a misbehavior of a corporate company in the blogosphere results in an immediate backlash.
Negative incidents circulate much longer in the Web than positive ones, which indicates the importance of immediate reactions by companies (Del Vecchio, 2011). Bertolli’s reaction came late, which allowed the bloggers to continue the public ‘dishstorm’. Nevertheless, the apology was in the form of a personal message on the company’s Facebook page (Please use “Facebook page” as the anchor text for the following link: https://www.facebook.com/Bertolli1865/photos/a.349219225149597.81363.306242006113986/829761240428724/?type=1&theater) instead of an official PR statement. Its reaction of admitting a wrong behavior was transparent, personal and open. Using its corporate blog to apologize helped Bertolli to show the human side behind the company. Fournier & Avery (2011) point out that this leads to a deeper understanding among the public for a specific behavior.
Relating to Chua et al.’s (2012) findings it can be said that Bertolli bargained away its trust. Being benevolent and helping without expecting returns is what leads to a sense of goodwill among stakeholders (Paul & McDaniel, 2004). Translated to the blogosphere it means to provide added value without thinking on one’s own business.
A food blogger involved in the dishstorm stated that the food blogger community’s intention was to show Bertolli and Unilever that spam and commercial links are not a noble way to increase traffic to their corporate blog (Wachter, 2015). A valuable comment is much more accepted than placing a commercial link under a blog post, leaving no value but the impression of trying to benefit from this blog without giving anything back (Risley, 2009).
Thomas Knüwer (2015) provides a very good analysis of the presented case. From his blog post and the comments from independent food bloggers it becomes clear that many bloggers earn money with their blogs. Consequently, they are subject to the same macro-economic rules as Bertolli is. The only difference here is that food bloggers do not have an influential mother company behind them. Exploiting the reach and influence of bloggers without even asking for a co-operation triggered the ‘dishstorm’.
For me, the example seems coherent with the way Fournier & Avery (2011) describe brands in the Web 2.0 – uninvited, promoting themselves while crashing the party. I noticed that various sources refer to the ‘Golden Rule’ saying that one should treat others as one would like to be treated by others (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.; Knüwer, 2015; Verdure Medienteam, n.d.). It seems that this saying is of high importance in the blogosphere. Sometimes it is not a business mantra that solves problems, sometimes it is just common sense.
Bertolli did not play by the social rules with its corporate blog. On the one hand, I can understand them. Intangible behavioral concepts of a culture, in this case the blogosphere, are usually difficult to understand for an outsider. The case proofed that basic assumptions in a culture referring to the unconscious and taken for granted views in seeing the world, need to be known in order to successfully operate in an environment (Schein, 1999 cited in Roper & Fill, 2012). However, this is not an excuse for behaving ‘like a bull in a china shop’. Instead, simple common sense, as well as preparation would have helped Bertolli to navigate in the blogosphere and to control its behavior towards the other bloggers.
Being perceived as credible is crucial for companies. As illustrated in my first post, a corporate blog is a good way of supporting the formal communication of companies with a personal human style, conveying even more credibility. Therefore, a failure in corporate blogs affects a company’s credibility even more. Chua et al. (2012) refer to credibility as a predecessor to trust. Bertolli did not know how to behave in its environment, which is not demonstrating credibility and hence no trustworthiness.
The case of Bertolli’s corporate blog combined with the theoretical concepts show that companies do not only have relationships which they establish and control but also relationships on which they have no influence. The network of bloggers in the blogosphere is an example of players in the game with whom the corporation needs to interact in an unavoidable way. These relationships need to be handled with special care as a violation of their rules can have serious effects on the company’s credibility.
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