It seems like the social media world is its own parallel universe sometimes, with trending news that rarely if ever meets the real world. If you watch the evening news or read news websites, the biggest news items in the country at the moment are the COVID-19 vaccination rollouts and mass shootings. If you are social media savvy, the biggest news of the week concerns shrimp tails.

Shrimp tails. Seriously. A consumer bought a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, opened it up to pour into a bowl, and two things that looked like sugared shrimp tails fell out. Naturally, he posted the picture on Twitter. What makes the situation incendiary was that the consumer happened to be a podcast host and minor celebrity who is married to a television actress. He has a Twitter following of 139,000 people, and the resulting posts about the “cinnamon toast shrimp” went viral immediately.

There are still some questions as to exactly what happened and who is at fault. Was it a cross-contamination issue at the General Mills plant, a case of mishandling by the retailer, or a C-list celebrity pulling a prank? The public relations nightmare that followed was very real, though. Numerous consumers swore they’d never buy the product again, and the company’s rather tepid initial response angered many more.

While these types of incidents are rather rare, it is good to keep a few things in mind. First, you may be the last person to know if your product ever has a foreign contaminant in it. By the time you hear about a piece of rubber in your sausage or a stick in your ground beef, there is a good possibility that the person who found it has already made a TikTok video, an Instagram post and three tweets about it. Second, your social media person, whoever it may be, does not need to be responding to consumer complaints. That’s above their pay grade. The response is your job, or someone with the appropriate customer service skills.

Even if you have severe doubts about the claim – there was a toy car in your bratwurst or whatever – treat it seriously and strive to make a resolution. Be responsive, be professional and strive to make the situation better – without admitting guilt. At the same time, you should immediately get in touch with a legal team. Check your production data to see if you can defend yourself against the claims. If you think you’re being wronged, you can take the appropriate actions after getting legal counsel.

These situations can turn around quickly. A good response could yet result in a public relations win. Just keep your wits about you, get some expert help and react professionally.

Sam Gazdziak