By David Goldman
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Paula Deen supporters lashed out on Facebook and Twitter against the companies that terminated partnerships with the southern cooking star in light of her racially insensitive remarks.
The Facebook pages of Walmart, Caesars, Home Depot, Smithfield, Sears, Target and The Food Network have been plastered with angry comments in support of Deen. Each of the pages had dozens — and in some cases hundreds — of Deen-related comments, overwhelming the companies’ social conversation.
“Return all of their items and ask for refunds if they cant support Paula Deen!” read the first comment on Wal-Mart’s Facebook page.
“I think it is absolutely terrible what you have done to Paula Deen,” a commenter said on the Facebook page of Caesars Palace Casino.
“That chicken looks a little racist. Maybe it shouldn’t be on that salad,” wrote a commenter on a Food Network Facebook post about its Buffalo Chicken Salad recipe of the day.
Despite the outpouring of support for Deen, social media marketing consultants note that Facebook comments typically don’t impact brands on their own. Negative reactions on Twitter, on the other hand, can actually do some serious damage.
Unlike Facebook comments, tweets and blog posts can show up in search results when consumers Google a company. If the first results that come up when searching for Target are “I’m never shopping at Target again after they dropped Paula Deen,” that could have a lasting impact.
“Since blogs and Twitter drive approximately two-thirds of content flow for a brand or topic online, I would be more focused on how those channels are going vs. Facebook, since they impact search,” said Bob Pearson, president of the Social Media Business Council.
Many of the comments on Twitter were just as visceral as those on Facebook.
“@SmithfieldFoods Shame on you for kicking @Paula_Deen when she needed the support from you the most. #freepaula,” read one tweet.
“@novonordiskus So by cutting ties w/ @PaulaDean means NO ONE in Ur Co has ever said anything bad?” said another, referring to Deen’s just-terminated partnership with diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk.
“@HomeDepot You dropped @Paula_Deen…? Thank goodness there’s @Lowes.” wrote one commenter.
The companies likely did a cost-benefit analysis of dropping vs. keeping the cooking star, and there were a number of tweets and Facebook comments supporting them for dropping Deen. But what brands don’t always realize is that individual fans of stars like Paula Deen can collectively have more influence than the celebrity herself does online. That can make clean-up difficult.
To quell fans’ anger, Sears was responding to most Deen-related tweets on Thursday, saying, “Thank you for your feedback. We’re monitoring the situation.” That can help, noted Pearson — as long as Sears actually follows up with an explanatory blog post or some other kind of action.
When the anger dies down, companies will often try to generate positive support to knock the negative tweets out of the top search results. Deals, offers and sponsored hashtags on Twitter usually do the trick.