Soup, sincerity, and social media

by

Just add substance and stir

Too often, social media and traditional media are separate thoughts. Why this is, I’ll never understand – I’ve always been vocal about social media as an outstanding tool, but not as a replacement of traditional media.  The fascinating part is interacting with these two channels, as it becomes clear from the public relations side that each one informs the other…when they’re working together, they create a powerful combination for brands.

A recent act of kindness captured on Facebook serves as a great reminder of this.  A good story travels a long way, and social media helps propel legitimate topics into the spotlight.  This month, we saw a story unfold organically that typifies how media channels can interface, and the difference between making noise on the Internet and telling a real story.

In this case, we have a Facebook post from a New Hampshire resident looking to fulfill one of his grandmother’s last wishes: a bowl of Panera Bread’s clam chowder. Both PR Restaurants (a Panera franchisee) and the family got more than they bargained for, as the post went viral, traditional media saw the story, and the PR team was able to help extend its reach.

The post was simple and heartfelt:

My grandmother is passing soon with cancer. I visited her the other day and she was telling me   about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted “awful” she went on about how she really would like some clam chowder from Panera. Unfortunately Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. I called the manager Sue and told them the situation. I wasn’t looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder. Without hesitation she said absolutely she would make her some clam chowder. When i went to pick it up they wound up giving me a    box of cookies as well. Its not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot. I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera in Nashua NH just for making my grandmother happy. Thank you so much!

Facebook fans grabbed onto the good deed, and the story spread to over 731,000 people. As popularity and ‘likes’ continued to grow, the genuine, human aspect of the story stood out among the countless posts that cross the desks of traditional media members. What started as an innocent “thank you” became a signpost that captured the spirit of Panera’s brand, garnering local and national news from television [WMUR], daily newspapers [Nashua Telegraph], and online media [Huffington Post, Yahoo!, etc.]

On the public relations side, this stands as a culmination of several elements…maybe corny to call it a minor “perfect storm,” but let’s go with that.

  1. A brand ambassador (the Panera Bread bakery cafe manager) acted in perfect coordination with the values of the company.
  2. An end-user recognized the act and became another ambassador for the brand in a social media setting.
  3. The sincerity of the exchange overcame the skepticism of traditional media when it comes to online endorsements.
  4. The PR team had the opportunity to extend the story without tarnishing its sincerity.

This last point is among the most important, because we hate spin.  We hate the thought of spin and we hate the perception of spin even more.  We are, on the contrary, storytellers – and that’s a significant distinction.  Sometimes our team finds the story, and sometimes the story grows on its own.  In all cases, we work with the media to bring the story to life using the tools at our disposal.

If we were to separate channels and say that social media and traditional media stand alone would limit our ability to pass the story on: they are intertwined, and always will be.   This case is a perfect example, showing us how social media legitimized a beautiful story for traditional media, and four elements – the Panera brand, Facebook, the media, and public relations – pulled together to make it visible.

[Note: special thanks to EZG’s Jenn Tatelman for lending firsthand insight to this post.  She is an absolute warrior.]

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