By December 16, 2012 5 Comments Read More →

The Yopro vs. Loblaw pile-on raises some serious ethical questions

121216-Yopro-TweetJamesKoole

The YoPro story broke on Wednesday when Amanda House published an empassioned (if monotoned) plea to her YouTube channel. It was a very public-personal message to Galen Weston, President of the Loblaw grocery chain. Amanda’s video hit all the emotional touchpoints to get people fired up with a clearly one-sided story. Besides, who doesn’t love to hate Big Anything-Business? Even as I watched the video and was sincerely concerned for Ms. House and her fiancé Chris Delaney, important questions popped into my head (the biggest questions are shared at the end of this post).

I’m no expert, but it seems to me the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry is a risky business with extremely high overhead. I’m fairly certain decision makers have some well-developed modeling tools which allow them to evaluate efficiencies at all stages of the product life cycle and throughout the supply chain. Add to the mix that a frozen treat requires more than just production, packaging, transportation and shelf space, it requires refrigeration at all stages. It’s likely a tough business for a small newcomer to get into. Particularly for one with little or no experience in the industry and one, it would seem, so apparently willing to gamble personal savings and family loans.

In fact, a good friend once invented a product and spent well over $10,000 just to have the idea patented as he developed it. He worked with sport equipment manufacturers to find an efficient production process and financial model that worked to actually move the product. They were never able to find the right balance and the attempt put my friend and his wife in financial distress. They had the smarts to get out before they found themselves in financial ruin and stress-induced ill health.

121216-Yopro-TweetAndrewSawyer

All of this Yopro buzz inspired me to dig into the online pile-on. And, based on my analysis using Sysomos MAP, it really presents itself as a pile on.

Before I share my analysis, I feel it’s important to point out Loblaw and Galen Weston never stood a chance in the online lynch mob that ensued. Even if they were adept at Twitter, this is a nuanced issue which is clearly going to be argued on emotion by one side and on business by the other. It’s an uphill battle to fight feelings (and photos of people in hospital beds) with graphs and charts.

As it turns out, though, the media and some industrious bloggers are doing some digging of their own and have found holes in Ms. House’s story. Not big holes. But, holes that cast enough doubt on elements of her emotional argument as to raise questions about her claims. Are the people most angry with Loblaw going to follow-up as the fact-checking reveals new elements of the story? Or are they satisified they’re helping land some blows against Big Grocery? This reminds me of an article by Lawrence Martin on why lying in politics works. The same principles apply here. For the record, I’m not suggesting Ms. House is lying. I’m suggesting her video embraces the same fundamental thinking on why the first strike is the sticky one.

The story received a significant amount of online attention. I tracked 981 mentions on Twitter, online news sites, blogs and forums. Not surprisingly, Twitter played host to a majority of the online chatter; 819 tweets from 603 unique Twitter accounts from December 12 through 15 (three days in all).

121216-Yopro-MediaBreakdown

Traffic spiked very quickly on the 12th and remained fairly constant through to the 14th. The bottom dropped out yesterday (the 15th) as traffic dropped from 255 tweets to 44 overnight. Note the graph that follows indicated 13 tweets on the 11th. The 11th is included to show the trend. The 13 tweets on the 11th represent a small number of unrelated tweets mentioning an unrelated individaul sharing the name “Amanda House.”

121216-Yopro-TrendGraph

Twitter participation skewed male (59%) during the evaluation period. Tweets from media organizations or by accounts from which gender could not be determined (e.g. @PandaSweetSweet) were excluded from gender analysis.

121216-Yopro-TwitterBreakdown

More interesting was how the sentiment broke out.

I reviewed all 819 tweets to assess individual sentiment. I conducted my analysis from the point of view of Loblaw. Any tweet which clearly articulated or inferred negative opinion about Loblaw was flagged as negative and any tweet which clearly articulated or inferred support for Loblaw was tagged as positive. I was certain to judge any tweet which simply promoted the story or stated fact without judgement or inference of judgement as neutral.

At just shy of 58% negative sentiment, women were nearly 6% more likely than men to be critical of Loblaw. On the positive side, 4.4% of tweets issued by men were positive, making men just 0.4% more likely than women to express support for the grocery chain. Men were just over 5% more likely than women to be neutral (44% vs. 38%). Unspecified gender (which includes media sources) was 70% neutral and nearly 30% negative. Overall, negative sentiment was clear in 49% of tweets and positive just 3.5%. Not including the unspecified category, Twitter sentiment was 54% negative and only 4% positive.

Some of the tweets critical of Ms. House question the $20 million she’s chasing from Loblaw.

121216-Yopro-TwitterSentiment

Most of the online attention originates from Canada (92%). The U.S. is a distant second (6%). The remainder of activity (2%) is scattered around the world. Ontario led all provinces (79%), followed by Alberta (6%) and BC (5%).

121216-Yopro-TwitterHeatmap

121216-Yopro-TwitterProvinces

Most of the Twitter traffic is regular tweets (51%) followed by re-tweets or amplification (40%) and @replies or conversation (10%). A significant majority of participants came and went in a single tweet (81%). Only 18% issued 2 or more tweets. The only two participants who issued eight or more tweets (@hainsworthtv and @loblawson) weren’t enough to register in that category.

121216-Yopro-TweetTypes

121216-Yopro-TwitterEngagement

All of this to say, there is a dangerous situation brewing here. It Ms. House setting the stage for any small business to run an emotionally-driven campaign against an enterprise they feel has wronged them? Is it appropriate to exploit social media and the real people who use them to draw blood from others with deeper pockets?

This is not a broken guitar. This is a business deal. And, most of us haven’t enough information to be making the judgements I’ve read.

avatar

About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of FullDuplex.ca, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.
  • Pingback: Yopro vs. Loblaw has left the building: analysis of an online crisis

  • Pingback: 2012 in digital public affairs and communication: a rear-view

  • Pingback: Everyone loves a good pile-on: lessons from another online crisis : Mark Blevis

  • nightowl_8936

    “It (sic) Ms. House setting the stage for any small business to run an emotionally-driven campaign against an enterprise they feel has wronged them? Is it appropriate to exploit social media and the real people who use them to draw blood from others with deeper pockets?”

    It’s not a question of “feel” … They WERE wronged! They were promised distribution, and through a series of “oversights” and “Oh, we forgot” to include Yo Pro in the plenum, they ruined the company.

    “This is not a broken guitar. This is a business deal.”

    You’re right, it is a business deal. A formal contract they had. Why else would they have borrowed hundreds of thousands from a bank to ramp up their volume production, after working for 7 years to perfect their recipe?

    “And, most of us haven’t enough information to be making the judgements I’ve read.”
    Well, maybe *you* don’t, because I doubt you’ve built or designed anything in your life, so you have no idea what true entrepreneurial blood or sweat looks or feels like. Nor do I think you have the moral clarity to make any judgements of any worth.
    You sing la-la-la-la-la as you count up tweets and blog posts and plot them. A rather rote activity, completely missing the deeper message that is being sent to small business entrepreneurs everywhere if Loblaws is somehow able to sleaze their slimy asses out of this one.

  • http://www.markblevis.com Mark

    At the time I wrote this post, and probably still to this day, it was fair to say the public was being fed cherry-picked information from both sides. Without seeing and having the ability to interpret the entirety of the contract, the public isn’t in a position to authoritatively comment on the specific terms and to what degree either side failed to deliver on their commitments.

    None of my comments are meant to suggest Loblaw is a saintly company with divine immunity. A lot of their actions in this narrative, particularly their destruction of hard drives, leave a very pungent odour. In a similar manner, Ms. House has been criticized for sourcing design work for her packaging which she rejected and subsequently used without compensating the small business which produced it for her. This puts the scruples of both parties into question.