August 7th, 2015

The knee-jerk reactions by businesses to real or perceived issue on social media is getting out of control.

A handful of people on social media blamed the Confederate Flag for killings in Charleston. Immediately all businesses stopped selling the flags.

Not a single one said they were  going to take the bold step to actually stop selling guns.  The flag issue was quick way to calm the social media mob.

The joke today is that for every action there will be a social media overreaction.

But, have businesses gone too far in trying to appease the anonymous social media stalkers who jump on every issue from the safety of their computers?

A classic example of a social media overreaction was Whole Foods, which recently pulled a product from its shelves because ONE on-line magazine writer thought the offering was ridiculous.  Her personal view caused a mini-social media firestorm.

The product she found so offensive was asparagus water that featured stalks of asparagus in a jar for $5.99. The product happened to be offered in ONE Whole Foods store in the country in Brentwood, CA, but when Marielle Wakim, an associate editor at Los Angeles magazine spotted the water sitting on shelves in a California Whole Foods supermarket, she was offended.

“Somewhere in L.A., Whole Foods executives are laughing at all of us,” Wakim posted on Instagram along with a photo of the product.

According to a story then picked up by CBS News Wakim noted, “Tap water, after all, is free, and an entire bundle of asparagus from Whole Foods costs around $5.  In fact, I was half-sure it was a joke.”

Asparagus Water

That’s all it took for the on-line vigilantes to pipe in on their disdain for the product.  One news story even referred to it as “Asparagus(gate).”

Shortly after the social media uproar a defensive Whole Foods responded by taking the product off the shelves, saying the product was made incorrectly.

“It was meant to be water with the essence of vegetables and/or mushrooms (similar to bone broth), which is typically made over a long period of time soaking in water,” the company’s spokeswoman noted. “It was made incorrectly and has since been removed.”

The overreaction by Whole Foods was stunning.  A single customer had a product removed because she thought it was dumb!!  It wasn’t unsafe or harmful to anyone.  One woman simply thought it was dumb.

Whole Foods and other stores routinely feature products that some consumers may not like for whatever reason (chickenless nuggets, flaxmilk, vegan cane sugar?).

However, while some might not care for certain products, others might react just the opposite and love them.  Consumers should be the ones who make the decision whether to buy or not buy a product, not Internet trolls.

It takes a considerable amount of time, effort and money to develop a product and actually get it on the shelves.  One study says the failure rate is an astounding 70-80 percent on a new product.

Maybe the asparagus water in Whole Foods was developed by a small vendor who was going to donate profits to good causes.  Maybe an aspiring entrepreneur came up with the product after years of work and is now bankrupt.

Do social media snobs care?  Not one iota.  They just relish the fact they can get on their computer and get businesses to bow down to their individual wishes.

If businesses continue to overreact to a small group of social media lynch mobs every time a handful say they dislike something the situation will only get worse.  Bullies only get worse when they are not stopped.

Yes, it is important for businesses to listen to what’s happening on social media.  That doesn’t mean they should allow themselves to be bullied by the whims of a few posters hiding behind a computer screen.

Sometimes developing a little backbone goes a long way.  Whole Foods and other companies might want to try it in the future.







7 Responses

  1. Mike Throop says:

    Then, there’s this viral event involving Whole foods in Washington D.C.

  2. Dennis Lawrence says:

    It wasn’t so much that folks blamed the killings on the Confederate flag. But the sight of the American flag at half mast while the Confederate Flag flew at full mast opened up the conversation as to why the flag was allowed on state property. South Carolina led the movement to remove it.

    • JohnLandsberg says:

      What people didn’t realize is that Confederate flag was permanently affixed to the monument and could not be lowered.

  3. Dennis Lawrence says:

    But, it was lowered.
    If you saw the video of the taking down of the flag,a state trooper turned the crank and lowered it. That could have been done the day the US flag was lowered, but was not. The image of a US flag in mourning and a Confederate flag at full mast was too jarring to be ignored.

    Bottom line. In my opinion, Anyone can fly the Confederate flag on their own property, and I think the General Lee in Dukes is just fine with the flag on top..

    But it cannot fly over our houses of government because it is not our flag.

    That is what became accepted and that is why it was removed.

    Social media reflected a larger conversation not drove it.

  4. Nobody Important says:

    Works both ways, John. One right-with-Jesus consumer complained about my company’s product and it was pulled from shelves across the entire southeast US. This cost us money and jobs.

    Hypocrite cafeteria Christians!

  5. such a nice article and wonderful site

  6. The social network is the best source of business growth…

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    As a long-time public relations practitioner (also known as a PR puke, flack, mouthpiece, media whore, etc.) of more than 25 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the way many journalists do their jobs, and the many challenges they face.

    Yes, they are often justified in despising those PR folks who pitch them silly stories in areas they don’t cover. Those flacks who call incessantly to follow-up on silly news releases should be flogged.

    Yes, it is embarrassing to the rest of us PR practitioners, but unfortunately, there are many people who are put in public relations positions because they “like people” (or know someone in top management). Some are even former journalists with virtually no experience working in communications in the corporate world.

    However, there are a lot of people in journalism today who are also an embarrassment to their chosen profession.  The number is growing as many media outlets are making hiring decisions based on political correctness and cost-savings rather than journalistic excellence or experience.

    As a public service, here are some Bottom Line Communications common sense rules journalists should follow.  If you have a colleague please share these with him/her.

    1) Contrary to what you may think, PR folks do not sit around all day breathlessly waiting for your call. It can be tough to immediately drop everything and respond to your needs in the next 10 minutes to meet YOUR (often artificial) deadline. Yes, PR folks should always respond quickly to your needs, but sometimes those needs can be a bit much.  Sometimes getting quick answers in a corporate setting can be a real challenge. Try to understand things from our end.

    2) When we send you a news release it is an embarrassment when you turn it over to your advertising folks to call us for the “ad for editorial” bribe dance.  Yes, it’s just as embarrassing to us when our executive discreetly (or bluntly) reminds you that we advertise with you. If we wanted to take out an ad we would have called your Advertising Department.

    3)  We realize sometimes the information we send you is not the “stop the presses” variety. The reality is we are sometimes forced to send out watered down news releases that have been edited and approved by 15 people, including the (dreaded) Legal Department. Sorry about that, but think how tough it is sometimes to get your stuff approved by ONE editor.

    4) The harsh reality is for many PR people our jobs are basically on the line every time you call.  Our CEO does not comprehend that we don’t really “manage” or “dictate” things to the news media.  He/she often doesn’t distinguish between the employee who does our in-house paper and a real journalist at a real media outlet. Yes, a negative story can result in our unemployment.

    5) No one expects you to be an expert on our business.  But at least check out our Web site ahead of time to get a rough idea of what we do. Heck, in a pinch actually read the background stuff I sent you. Your readers/viewers/listeners deserve some preparation on your part.

    6) We know YOUR time is valuable.  We also know OUR chief executive’s time is pretty valuable.  How long should we wait around for you to show up?  An hour? Two?

    7) Don’t throw a hissy fit if we want to sit in on your interview.  Yes, there are some PR folks who do the “What CEO Mr. Smith really meant to say was Acme Corporation loves all children “routine.  They should be flogged.  Most PR people take notes (or record) during the interview.  That way when you go back to the office and realize your recorder was broken we can save your butt.

    8) Appearances can be important.   Sorry, but when you arrive in cut-off blue jeans, sandals and a tank top to interview the CEO—rightly or wrongly— it is often taken as a lack of respect. It is not a good way to gain confidence or make him/her feel comfortable that you will do your job professionally when you arrive late and look as if you just finished mowing your lawn.

    9) We all realize the reality is today you are one layoff away from joining our lowly ranks.  Don’t make everyone feel uncomfortable by asking about possible job openings for yourself (or spouse) at our company prior to an interview with our CEO. It can come across as a bribe.

    10) Deal with the fact that the person you will speak to will often have been media trained. Those of us who are veterans of the PR business often media train our clients and brief them ahead of time on your interview style and the direction the story may take. It is our job to try and level the playing field in interviews. Letting a client do an interview cold turkey could be likened to entering a gunfight with a knife (a rubber one).

    11) Please, please do not offer my client the opportunity to review your story before it runs.  Act like a professional journalist. Do you have any idea what a can of worms that opens up for me? The client will not be happy unless you have written a complete and total PR puff piece, and will likely ask me to re-write your story which will irritate the hell out of you. Don’t put me in that position.

    12) Realize we both have jobs to do. You want to write an honest and accurate story, and we want to make your job as easy as possible and get some of our key points across. Story errors get you in trouble with your editors. They also get us in trouble.

    The reality is we both have jobs to do. My goal is to make my client look good. Your goal is to provide an accurate story to readers.

    With a little mutual respect and cooperation, we can both achieve our goals.

    Published October 30, 2017 at 3:50 pm - No Comments As a long-time public relations practitioner (also known as a PR puke, flack, mouthpiece, media whore, etc.) of more than 25 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the way many journalists do their jobs, and the many challenges ...


    Since the presidency of Donald Trump began in January the public has had a unique view in seeing how many, many executives act when their true remarks/feelings/views go public. Unfiltered.

    It is often not a pretty scene.  It’s like the old joke where you really don’t want to know how sausage is actually made.

    Trump, in his effort to show “transparency” to the public, has been sending unfiltered, unedited Tweets out on a random basis since he began running for President.  They can come at any time of the day or night, and often seem to follow the “Ready, Fire, Aim!!” theory of communications.

    His latest missives aimed at C-list TV personalities MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough have totally derailed a series of recent legislative successes (LINK).  Not only that, but his Tweets have actually enhanced the couple’s standing.

    Communications professionals around the globe have been left scratching their collective heads and wondering, “In his wildest dreams how did he ever think talking about Brzezinski’s facelift would be a good idea?”

    I have been in top-level corporate meetings literally hundreds of times.  If the public was privy to many of the actual discussions they would be stunned.  After one meeting where the company president repeatedly stressed the need for diversity I heard him casually remark to the HR director as we were leaving, “Okay, does that cover my ass legally now if we don’t hire minorities?”

    It is impossible for President Trump to have an overall coherent communications message when he is shooting out Tweets from the hip.  His staffers end up spending all their time and effort trying to clean up the most recent mess he created rather than focusing on any type of overall communications strategy.

    Someone needs to stress to the President that his personal, off-the-cuff,  tweeting must stop.  If he won’t heed that advice he should at least agree that someone must read his Tweets before they go out.

    The days of unfiltered Tweets from the President must end.




    Published July 1, 2017 at 7:59 am - One Comment Since the presidency of Donald Trump began in January the public has had a unique view in seeing how many, many executives act when their true remarks/feelings/views go public. Unfiltered. It is often not a pretty scene.  It̵ ...


    It has been called “appalling journalism.”

    That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light.

    Long-time NBC Today Show star and anchor at all three major networks, Katie Couric, now with Yahoo! News, is being severely criticized for highly questionable editing in her documentary titled “Under the Gun” after it was revealed an eight-second pause was inserted to make it look as if the people interviewed could not answer her question (LINK).

    Luckily for the individuals being interviewed, one person was wise enough to record the Q&A (LINK TO AUDIO). Otherwise, questioning the bubbly media icon would have been virtually impossible and fruitless.

    Couric was executive producer, host and narrator of the piece.  Anti-gun activist Stephanie Soechtig produced and directed it.

    In the documentary, a group of Virginia gun owners was asked by Couric: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”

    Not only did Couric/Soechtig insert a pause (8-10 seconds), but they also inserted “B” roll of the gun owners taken before the interview even began.  There is little doubt the editing was clearly designed to make it look as if Couric’s tough question made them speechless and uncomfortable.

    Couric is now calling the edit an “unnecessary mistake,” according to an individual with knowledge of her thinking (LINK).

    In an official statement, Soechtig countered, “my intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.”

    Couric now says she supports Soechtig’s statement “and am very proud of the film.” However, a few days later she admitted she regretted how she portrayed gun activists (LINK).

    However, the National Review and Washington Post now say Couric should be fired over the deliberate misrepresentation (LINK).

    This is a classic reason why at Bottom Line Communications we strongly advise clients to always record media interviews.  Without actual audio evidence (below) the Yahoo! crew would have denied inserting the pause.

    However, with the evidence journalism takes another huge credibility hit.


    Published May 29, 2016 at 8:30 am - 2 Comments It has been called “appalling journalism.” That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light. Long-time NBC Today Show star and ...


    In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious.

    When rankings for the best “J” schools in the nation are posted the University of Missouri is almost guaranteed to be in the Top 10 or Top 5.  However, that may have all changed due to the actions of a single media professor during the recent student uprising at the school.

    A Mass Media Professor, Melissa Click, is shown in a video asking for “muscle” to remove a student photojournalist, Tim Tai,  who was working for ESPN and in a public place.   It is a horrible act by a college professor and shows a total disregard for the Journalist’s First Amendment rights, which is against what the school has taught for decades.

    “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here,” says Click.

    A video of Click’s actions against Tai has gone viral and has well over 500,000 views (LINK) on a single site.  The New York Times has written an extensive story about her actions.

    What was once a sympathetic media for the protesters has now changed with the actions of students and faculty against them.

    Technically some have pointed out Click works in the Mass Media Division of the Department of Communications in College of Arts & Sciences, which is separate from the J-school.  However, she is listed on the School of Journalism’s site (LINK), which tars the entire Journalism program whether it deserves it or not.

    Click had earlier Tweeted out that she she was looking for coverage of the event by Journalists.  Later on she is clearly leading the charge against other Journalists with total disregard for their rights to cover the event.

    With the resignation of the school’s President and Chancellor the University of Missouri is clearly being painted as a college where the inmates are running the asylum.   Rather than act like a Professor, Click and other faculty members have clearly shown they were behind the student protests against the administration.

    If the University of Missouri doesn’t hire a crisis communications team immediately its entire image for producing quality Journalism graduates could likely be tarnished forever. If the school was wise it already had a crisis communications plan in place for such an incident, but that is unlikely.

    The first move would be to remove Click. But that would be a stop-gap measure since a faculty member helping foment the disturbance was an indictment on all the faculty.  The school hired her, and whether tacitly or not, approved of her actions.

    A statement issued today by the Dean of the Journalism School denied she was part of the faculty and sounded as if her days as a professor at Missouri were numbered. Click has also been forced to apologize in an attempt to save her job and resigned her “courtesy” appointment to the J-School.

    However, a Kansas City reporter told BLC that the protesters are refusing to speak with local reporters and will only do interviews with national media outlets.  That is the kind of move that will turn sympathetic local media against them now and in the future.

    It’s a bad move.



    Published November 10, 2015 at 10:23 am - 5 Comments In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious. When rankings for the best ...