Chick-fil-a, Social Media and Your Cooperative Phil Kenkel Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair

Chick-fil-a, Social Media and Your Cooperative
Phil Kenkel
Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair
My 16-year-old son works at Chick-fil-a. I thought he might have some insights into the firm’s
social media crisis. The only thing he was clear on was that the store was unprepared to cook
enormous amounts of chicken for the “Chick-fil-a Appreciation Day” organized via Facebook
and Twitter. I’ll leave it to the social media experts to expound on all of the lessons of the crisis
but there could be some implications for local cooperatives.
The first observation is that social media supercharges public opinion incidents. When
companies face a crisis (either physical or political) the discussion and ramifications unfold with
exceptional speed. There is much less time to prepare statements and it is more difficult to
control an “official response.” It is much easier to be overtaken by events and thus more
important to pre-plan responses.
The second observation is that there can be some value in monitoring social media even if the
firm is not actively engaged in the technology. As the over worked chicken cookers can attest, it
can be nice to know what people are saying. In regard to the previous point, understanding the
conversations taking place will help in communicating the facts and the cooperative’s
A final observation is that while it is nice to listen in, the social media discussion can distort your
view of the world. Social media discussion predicted the appreciation day but also predicted a
backlash event which largely never occurred. The young people who dominate social media
discussion often do not turn their rants into action. Conversely the more conservative part of the
US population are likely late adopters of technology. It’s impossible to accurately predict public
opinion, must less public action on the sole basis of social media discussion.
Just as your cooperative’s success is determined by how well you serve farmer members, Chickfil-a’s success will continue to depend on its sandwiches. Endorsing or ignoring social media is
unlikely to be the driving success factor for your cooperative. However, the social media
phenomenon is occurring and the participants are the next generation of cooperative members.
Facebook has close to 1 billion users and more than 140 million are on Twitter. Technology has
a way of influencing us whether we are ready or not.