Crisis management 101: How did DiGiorno bounce back from a cheesy tweet?

by Katie Meyer

With every post on social platforms, marketers have to make a tough choice: tried-and-true messages or pushing the envelope to attract more attention. Playing it safe keeps your brand out of trouble, but no guts, no glory. Especially on Twitter. What happens when an attempt at edgy goes horribly wrong? What are a bad tweet’s long-term effects for a brand?

Last week, we analyzed Smuckers’ comment deleting jam on Facebook. This week, we chew on DiGiorno’s #whyIstayed pizza gaffe.

Spicy tweet way too hot (and offensive) for Twitter

On September 9, 2014, DiGiorno — the reheat-at-home pizza brand — was on a roll. In the days beforehand, DiGiorno had live-tweeted a Colts vs Broncos football game with saucy comments using trending hashtags. Retweets poured in. Life was good.

At 10:58 AM, DiGiorno went too far by co-opting #whyIstayed — belittling women and trivializing a sensitive conversation. Domestic violence survivors used the trending topic to speak out against the weak victim stereotype, explain warning signs of abuse, and discuss their personal experiences with how abusers trap their targets.

Using the hashtag to sell pizza was in line with DiGiorno’s previous tweets, but Twitter users quickly decided that mocking domestic violence victims was way over the line. Judgement of the brand was swift, widespread, and brutal. DiGiorno later claimed its social media manager was not aware of #whyIstayed’s meaning. To use their own hashtag, #digiorNOYOUDIDINT.

Containment strategy flattens growth

DiGiorno’s solution? Crowdbabble’s content analysis tool shows individualized apologies tweeted to each user who complained about DiGiorno’s appropriation of the hashtag. After two days of writing apologies and general grovelling, DiGiorno stopped tweeting completely for three weeks. After an initial spike of activity as users favourited and retweeted the crusty tweet, engagement flatlined.

DiGiorno’s decision to stop all Twitter activity contained the controversy, as users did not have any new DiGiorno’s tweets to hijack with angry comments. It came at a price: follower growth stalled, while competitors like Freschetta, RedBaron, PizzaPizza, and Pizza Hut continued to climb.

It’s not delivery, it’s a slow decline in engagement over time

October is apparently pizza month, and on October 1 2014 DiGiorno made a zesty return to Twitter. In its first tweets after three weeks of silence, responses were back to normal and the #whyIstayed debacle wasn’t mentioned. Using Crowdbabble’s engagement report, we looked at activity on Twitter in the two months before and after the #whyIstayed tweet.

The silence, apparently, gave DiGiorno a clean start. The silent weeks aside, engagement before and after is relatively stable albeit slightly lower. DiGiorno changed its voice on Twitter in the months following the scandal; without the spice, engagements and comments per tweet declined. That is, until December 2014.

Turning heat back on allows brand to rise again

Using the content section of Crowdbabble’s analytics, we noticed a huge spike in engagement through the winter of 2014/2015. When DiGiorno returned to its Twitter roots by live-tweeting NBC’s live production of Peter Pan in December — taking on the voice of a slightly drunk peanut gallery — Twitter followers seemed ready to re-embrace its edginess. Other brands, like @Charmin and @MrsTsPierogies, joined in, and it seemed the cloud from the September social media mistake had faded.

More than 1,800 retweets and 2,500 favourites helped @DiGiorno gain momentum over the winter and experience another viral hit on February 8, 2015. When the brand joked about Iggy Azaelia during the Grammys, it garnered more than 18,000 retweets and almost 30,000 favourites. Azaelia attacked Papa John’s delivery during her speech and DiGiorno pounced:

Iggy Azaelia replied and other (non-competitor) brands, again, joined in. The stream of apologies from Digiorno’s Twitter account after the #whyIstayed mistake may have helped users and other brands feel safe engaging with DiGiorno when it came back online. @DiGironoPizza’s seeming dedication to not making the same mistake over again would have assured followers that the risk of a tarnished reputation by association was minimal.

Return to classic recipe boosts performance

A year later, DiGiorno is better than ever. In the month after the scandal, the brand received almost no mentions on Twitter.

This year, almost 4% of engagement with DiGiorno on Twitter is comprised of mentions and each tweet receives an average of 77.8 retweets or favourites. Though overall favourites and retweets were high last year — as users scrambled to capture the offensive tweet — now DiGiorno’s ability to capture its followers’ attention is stable and consistently high. Almost a third of the messages the brand sends receive between 10 and 49 retweets, with 4% going viral at more than 100, as shown below.

DiGiorno is as hungry as ever for viral hits, has taken back its edgy voice, and is topping the competition as a result. The brand’s strategy of sincere and thorough grovelling followed by a calming period of total silence in the wake of the scandal effectively delivered the brand from the storm of bad press, and the brand now tweets almost as fearlessly as before.

To assess how your brand performs relative to the competition on Twitter, visit the engagement panel of your account’s analytics.

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