No, not that Faith Popcorn, the popping kind. The little bags you buy in convenient premeasured portions for your microwave. This is a study in Damage Control 2.0.
Last week, the New York Times published an article calling into question the safety of microwaved popcorn. It's all about a substance named diacetyl, which adds that nice buttery flavor to your favorite movie snack.
The substance has also been the subject of some health concerns in the last few years. By Tuesday, the blogosphere was buzzing with the story as this article about diacetyl in popcorn rocketed to the top of Digg, the massively popular social news site. Within 24 hours the buzz was popping everywhere and hence the problem for popcorn manufacturers.
So how do you respond to a melted meltdown in the age of conversation?
Some popcorn companies decided to join the fray. Mixing it in like the salt in the bag, they reached out to bloggers in the comments arena. I will give them good points for working it one story at the time and staying positive and informative. As an example taken from the comment section of one of the sites with the story:
Microwave popcorn without diacetyl flavoring is available now
Cathy Yingling, on behalf of Wea, Guest
There is a microwave popcorn option available for people concerned about this issue.
Weaver Popcorn has ALREADY taken out diacetyl from the flavoring in its microwave popcorn brands -- Pop Weaver, sold at mass market retailers, discount stores and select grocery stores; and Trail's End, sold through Boy Scout councils.
Here's a traditional company having faith in the new channel even though it is still using some of the official language. Ms. Yingling may be representing Pop Weaver, yet she is transparent and links her name to the comment. That is very encouraging. A few comments down, someone apparently from ConAgra didn't have the same confidence in the medium and signed simply "guest".
Now let's take a look at how PR Week reported the news.
Popcorn makers reach out to nervous customers.
I believe customers were never nervous, they were just going to boycott the product. Further in the article, Ms. Yingling's comment maps to her actions in the blogosphere.
“We’ve been reaching out to all of our media contacts to remind them that, yes, our products are already free of diacetyl flavoring,” Yingling said. “Phase two will be reaching out to bloggers, because obviously there’s a lot of interest and chatter out there online.”
And the interest was real. Due to its exposure on Digg, the article propagated horizontally through other social media sites, including Stumble Upon, Reddit, and del.icio.us. This in turn brought the story to the attention of more bloggers and news media outlets worrying popcorn manufacturers. A story now has the potential to get more legs and long tails up and down the public consciousness. Will you join in the conversation? Welcome to public relations in the age of new media.