Shitstorm: the worst nightmare for your online brand


How many times have we written an opinion or a criticism under the posts of a brand? For companies, it is good to know the thinking of customers to follow the wave of the satisfaction of potential followers, but if the feedbacks are very negative it can cause reputational damage. The instantaneity of the network facilitates the virality of this type of comment, creating a real ” shitstorm “.

Let’s find out what it is and some of the most relevant examples.

Shitstorm is the English term that indicates the spread of insults and negative comments towards people, pages or brands on blogs and social media . The characteristics that distinguish it from a simple negative comment concern the vulgarity and ferocity with which criticism and aggressive and offensive language are expressed. This includes the psychological dimensions typical of group dynamics from disinhibition, from anonymity to de-humanization that leads to denying the identity of those who are criticized.

Meteorological bulletin

Just as a storm develops from different degrees of severity, a shitstorm is also measurable on a scale of comments that indicate its escalation. Barbara Schwede and Daniel Grad , public relations experts, have developed a scale of different levels to define shitstorms and focus on:

  • Number of posts: amount of negative comments in relation to their normal value
  • Persistence : Time in which comments are posted online
  • Relevance : truthfulness of the comments that generates a strong negative impact on the reputation of the company.

Weather alert

  • Pre-phase or “before the storm”: these are warning signs such as the sporadic appearance of negative comments. To avoid growth, it may be useful to contact dissatisfied customers directly and understand if there is a real reason for dissent.
  • Acute phase or ” shitstorm “: indicates the beginning of the storm. You get a large and unusual number of negative comments. Here users often deal with decontextualized issues with the sole purpose of activating ferocious communication.
  • Concluding phase or “calm after the storm”: negative comments normalize and some users may even show their sympathy.

Emergency kit

To face the storm it is necessary to adopt a defensive strategy:

❌ It is not recommended to delete the comments because you risk emphasizing the issue.

✔️ Admitting a possible mistake can prove successful to the point of reversing the situation and increasing the popularity of the brand.

4 Deadly storms

1. Dell

In 2005, US blogger Jeff Jarvis wrote a series of blog posts against DELL’s products and customer service. The remarkable popularity of Jarvis’s blog caused a wave of solidarity with him and a real shitstorm against DELL. Sales dropped significantly and numerous media outlets reported the matter as “DELL Hell”.

Strategy : The brand was forced to face criticism and contact customers by examining social media.

2. Nestle

In 2010, a Greenpeace video posted on YouTube sparked a storm of criticism and insults against Nestle . The film removes the wrapper of the KitKat, a famous chocolate snack, revealing the finger of an orangutan. The harsh criticism was aimed at hitting the choice of some palm oil producers who, through deforestation, caused the destruction of the natural habitats of some animal species, also pointing to the direct consumers of the snack as responsible.
Strategy : The company decided to delete the video from YouTube, along with the negative comments on Facebook. This led to greater social disapproval, forcing the company to change its regular oil suppliers.

3. Barilla

clients. shitstorm

In 2013 Guido Barilla , president of the company, declared that he would not make commercials with homosexual families because he was a strong promoter of the traditional family. The statement caused great indignation and Facebook and Twitter pages were opened in order to boycott Barilla.

Strategy : Guido Barilla publicly apologized . From that moment on, the remedy company participated in numerous meetings with members of the LGBTQ + community, launching initiatives to promote gender equality, becoming one of the most gay-friendly companies in the world. Well done!

4. Recent Shitstorms? This is the case with DAZN

A few days ago the news of possible changes to Dazn subscriptions was released . The company has expressed its intention to eliminate the possibility of using the same content from two users connected to the same subscription. The ultimate goal is to combat fraudulent access to Dazn content and increase subscriptions to the platform. This possibility has sparked the anger of many users, and Codacons has also mobilized arguing that “there could be damage to those users who have activated subscriptions on the basis of conditions on which Dazn is now backing down”.

Strategy: the company has formalized the turnaround with respect to this indiscretion, maintaining the service again for this season.

TIPS : creates a direct and trusting relationship with the customer.

  • Respond to dissent in a professional way and try to understand the reasons for it.
  • Communicate openly and sincerely by involving all media channels.

Better not let the storm catch you unprepared! If you want to communicate in the right way with your customers, contact the Sniper team to choose the right communication projects. If you liked the article, follow the news on our Blog and through the Instagram , Facebook and Linkedin channels.

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