Brand crisis research: vaccine mandates, Striketober, & misinformation

November 2, 2021

Written by Danielle Tom

We discussed our latest brand crisis research around misinformation, worker strikes, and vaccine mandates and the key features of public and media interest during the October episode of the NewsWhip Pulse.

CEO Paul Quigley invited NewsWhip’s Head of Research, Benedict Nicholson on the show again as a guest, after graciously hosting the August and June editions of the show, to discuss different types of brand crises mentioned within the company’s recent Crisis Q3 2021 report.

The research shows that companies managing a brand crisis often have an opportunity to get ahead of the most damaging narratives before becoming immortalized in public opinion.

Rising audience-side misinformation

The modern definition of misinformation has certainly become more contextual. Nicholson explains that in 2016 “outright false stories were going viral” and now it has become harder to identify.

Examples of this were highlighted with articles about vaccine side effects from late 2021. In one of the examples, an article from Newsweek was widely shared about a child that died, though the vaccine the child received was not declared the cause of death.

“…that gets shared with people who are trying to imply that there is causation, and thus creates this fog of misinformation.” Nicholson continued, “there may not be anything wrong with the actual story, it’s the context with which the story is shared that can be a problem.”

Although this is not the norm, there are exceptions that fit the older definition of misinformation. One such recent incident involved Walmart and a fake press release claiming the retail chain would accept cryptocurrency from Litecoin as a payment method. Walmart quickly refuted the rumor and engagements with stories about the fake news dropped off quickly afterward. Reaching out to the key news sources to correct the record early on is paramount to effectively manage misinformation directed at a brand. This type of monitoring can be done using a tool like our top author leaderboards.

“If that story [getting the most shares] then gets a correction, then more people will see the correction, which is why it’s important to understand how a story’s being shared, whether it’s completely false like this one, or contextually potentially false like the others.”

Patterns in article headlines about product recalls

Product recalls were also examined, and holding company brand awareness seems to play a factor in recalls with several similar trademarked products.

What’s more, the engagement usually follows two to three days after the announcement of the product recall. Johnson & Johnson recalling several sunscreens linked to carcinogenic ingredients generated hundreds of thousands of engagements. The phrase “cancer-causing” was one of the key phrases that accompanied the most engaged article titles.

This was also a theme with a recall for Chantix, a drug used to aid smoking cessation. Interest with both the Johnson & Johnson and the Chantix recalls may have also had to do with the purpose for each of the products – preventing cancer from UV rays or cigarettes. Tracking the narratives that are resonating the most is made easier by using NewsWhip’s Crisis Dashboard and article groupings setting.

Strikes building engagement over the long haul

Major food producers have been at the front of employee-led strikes from the last few months, with Nabisco, Frito-Lay, and Kellogg’s being mentioned as examples during the webinar. Typically intentions of striking are announced a few weeks in advance, but then engagement with the employee strike tends to peak during the event itself.

Nicholson says NewsWhip’s crisis analysis report demonstrates that when it comes to employee strikes “there is some time to act before the public starts paying attention.”

Certain pieces about worker strikes also resonated more than others. First person perspectives, specifically those published by VICE, traveled around the social web more often.

Vaccine mandates coverage from conservative publishers

Articles about vaccine mandates had strong engagement, especially when it came to brand decisions affecting employees. More specifically, articles with narratives opposing mandates tended to come from conservative publications.

Airlines have been under close scrutiny, with their new policies needing to comply with the national vaccine mandate in the United States. Although Delta Air Lines and United Airlines generated their share of buzz for their policies, they paled in comparison to Southwest, which also contended with a rumor about operational challenges becoming conflated with its vaccine policy.

In another example Nicholson alluded to the NBA’s outspoken critics of the vaccine, such as the Brooklyn Nets’s point guard Kyrie Irving. More recently, there were Irving fans protesting outside of Barclays Center, the home court for the Brooklyn Nets. This was somewhat predictable based on some of the articles that were trending back in September as outlined by NewsWhip’s crisis report.

“So this is all from the end of September [articles about the NBA], like way before anything actually tangible happened.” Nicholson added, “it’s good to look at the things that are bubbling up, even if it’s not from your traditional audience.”

If you would like to read more analysis and see more brand examples from the Crisis Q3 2021 report, you can do that here. You can also watch past editions of our webinar series at the Pulse hub.

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