My Favorite Social Media Strategy from 2022 Was from the Company That Did Nothing

Social media platforms have emerged as some of the most effective tools for public relations practitioners. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn provide us with receptive avenues for reaching target audiences, for telling stories that help shape brands and showcase a company’s expertise.

But information on these platforms does not flow in just one direction. How audiences respond to social media posts tells us a lot about how interested and engaged they are with the nature of the content. Measuring the number of likes and shares and discerning reactions from comments is like taking a post’s pulse – it tells you just how alive it is.

This brings me now to an episode that happened this past summer.

The unwitting victim was not a company with a reputation for pushing the social media envelope. Far from it. No, it was the half-century-old purveyor of Country Fried Steak and Homestyle Chicken N’ French Toast – Cracker Barrel.

Just what was the transgression that put the Lebanon, Tennessee-based restaurant chain into the crosshairs of social media? It was simply this: The company blithely announced in a seemingly innocent Facebook post that it was introducing meatless sausage into its Build Your Own Breakfast menu. To be clear, it wasn’t replacing its traditional sausage patty with the Impossible Sausage; it was simply adding a plant-based option to those who might want a meatless alternative.

Hog Wild

What happened next was wholly unpredictable: Cracker Barrel’s Facebook community began blowing up the platform, making it clear in no uncertain terms that the chain’s decision was not welcome. You might even say that customers went…ergh…hog wild. Granted, there were posts that thanked CB for joining the ranks of other restaurants offering a meatless option, but by and large, those rational voices were drowned out by a cacophony of pork sausage-loving hordes who accused Cracker Barrel of going “woke” and threatening a boycott.

“You can take my pork sausage when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!! Don’t tread on my pork,” wrote one indignant Facebook follower. Another asked: “Are you kidding me? Who do you think your customer base is?” “I’m not a rabbit. I love meat!!” added another.

One customer summed up the reaction succinctly: “Go Woke, Go Broke!”

What’s clear through all this is that we can now add sausage patties to the list of critical cultural issues that cleave our country. While Cracker Barrel never suggested that Porky Pig-loving breakfast eaters should consider a less fatty option, the mere addition of a meatless option lit the griddle on a firestorm of opposition. Who would have guessed?

Suddenly, Cracker Barrel had a social media crisis on its hands.

Or did it?

There is always a temptation to react to a gathering storm, and I’ve got to think that the crisis and PR teams at Cracker Barrel spent many hours debating how to best respond to the inflamed carnivores.

But the company did what was most important – it took a step back and looked at the situation with a sense of perspective. While post after post in opposition to the Impossible Sausage no doubt sowed some seeds of doubt into their decision to go meatless, at the end of the day, company management understood that those loud voices did not represent the broad clientele who enjoys their breakfasts. In the heat of battle, it may seem as if the enemy has way more troops and firepower than they actually do.

And so, reasonable heads prevailed. Cracker Barrel resisted the temptation to roll around in the slop with the bloodthirsty crowd of sausage eaters. It basically ignored the protests, and last we heard, the pork sausage and meatless alternative are living harmoniously within Cracker Barrel’s breakfast menu.

In a world of partisan divide, perhaps that’s a lesson for all of us.

Josh Dare

Josh’s career in communications spans more than four decades. In addition to providing strategic counsel and crisis communications direction to clients, he is the resident Writer-In-Chief, regularly writing op-eds and bylines on behalf of clients that have been published in The Washington Post, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Huffington Post, among others.

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