“Be Kind” – Yorkshire Tea’s reputation management masterclass

Take one senior politician, one well-known and much-loved brand, and add social media. Stir together and what do you get?

That’s right, the perfect recipe for a Twitter storm.

That’s exactly what happened to Yorkshire Tea this weekend when Rishi Sunak MP, the Conservative MP for Richmond (in North Yorkshire as it happens) shared an image of himself making a cup of tea, standing next to a giant bag of the famous Yorkshire brew.

Twitter users jumped on the seemingly innocent tweet and condemned the brand. The reaction from some Twitter users can only be described as the very worst of social media. But how the brand responded, on the other hand, was a masterclass in reactive social media management.

The vitriol got so intense that Yorkshire Tea issued a public response confirming that it had not endorsed the association. This did nothing to quell the fury of Twitter users who continued to call for the brand to be boycotted.

So finally, on Monday morning, Yorkshire Tea issued a four tweet thread in response to the tirade of abuse. A thread that can only be described as a modern-day masterclass in reactive digital reputation management.

There are three main lessons we can take from Yorkshire Tea’s response:

1. Tackle the issue head-on

Yorkshire Tea didn’t avoid the issue or stay silent. They choose not to wait for it to ‘die down’ or bury their hands in the sand – a mistake so many brands make. Instead, they very calmly, clearly and with great purpose, addressed the issue directly. They got on the front foot, called for calm and demonstrated their brand values by calling on Twitter users to be kind to one another.

Crucially, they didn’t react in haste. The Twitter thread reflects a clearly well thought-out, measured and balanced response that even the nastiest social media troll would find difficult to argue with.

The reality with any conversation on social media, especially those focused on a negative issue, is that the conversation will continue with or without you. But saying nothing, staying silent, and hoping it will go away, you are left without a voice and your ability to control the conversation is zero.

What brands should learn from Yorkshire Tea is the power of putting your brand front and centre of negative conversation. Brands should look to lead not hide from the conversation on social media, especially when things look like they’re going badly wrong.

2. Be honest

When you read the thread, the emotion and honesty behind the words shines through. The words they used and the way they expressed their view creates and instant connection with the reader.

They were 100% honest in admitting their shock at what had happened. Honest about the volume of nasty, hateful tweets they’d received (even screenshotting tweets and posting them to their account for all to see). Honest about how the whole incident had made them feel as a brand, and more importantly as a team of real people just trying to do a job.

We've spent the last three days answering furious accusations and boycott calls. For some, our tea just being drunk by someone they don't like means it's forever tainted, and they've made sure we know it.

The lesson for brands is this: People online will disagree with you (rightly or wrongly) but if you’re honest, they will respect you. If you’re honest, you stand the best possible chance of showing your brand in the best possible light. If you get it right, not only will you limit the damage, but you might just come out of the other side with your public reputation enhanced.

3. Be Human

Brands have traditionally been afraid to show the real person or people behind their profile picture. Brands forget that social media is a conversation between two people or one person and a collection of people.

Social media makes it so easy for people to “vent their rage online”, as Yorkshire Tea so beautifully expressed it, without thinking of the real person on the other end of the tweet.

Yorkshire Tea didn’t just respond in a human way through their ‘tone of voice’, or in how they expressed their words. They explicitly made it clear that there is a “human on the other end” – a human, a real person with feelings. A real person whose emotional state can be damaged from reading hundreds and thousands of nasty tweets – yes, even when those tweets are directed at a brand.

We've spent the last three days answering furious accusations and boycott calls. For some, our tea just being drunk by someone they don't like means it's forever tainted, and they've made sure we know it.

We’ve spent the last three days answering furious accusations and boycott calls. For some, our tea just being drunk by someone they don’t like means it’s forever tainted, and they’ve made sure we know it.

Being human, showing vulnerability and showing that your brand is a collection of real people working hard to deliver the best product or best experience for their customers, creates a positive identity for your brand and a positive connection between brand and audience.