We live in a time when politics has become highly polarized and, rather than becoming the ‘marketplace of ideas’ that many had hoped for, social media has instead become a battleground of ideologies.
So what happens when your brand, through no fault of its own, gets caught in the crossfire of a bitter political argument on social media? That’s exactly the problem faced by popular British tea-brand, Yorkshire Tea, this week.
To understand the situation fully, there are a couple of things you need to know:
• Firstly, the Brits take their tea seriously, and Yorkshire Tea is a much-loved brand, almost a national institution.
• Secondly, politics in Britain remains bitterly divided, following the recent election victory of the Conservative Party and the country’s departure from the European Union in January.
So, when the recently installed Chancellor of the Exchequer posted this tweet, a lot of people who love Yorkshire Tea, but not the Conservative Party, were left feeling very conflicted:
Quick Budget prep break making tea for the team. Nothing like a good Yorkshire brew. pic.twitter.com/zhoQM9Ksho
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) February 21, 2020
Almost immediately, people began calling for a boycott of the brand. Things started getting quite heated, and some even began sending abuse to the Yorkshire Tea Twitter profile, accusing them of supporting conservative policies.
The company eventually responded, pointing out that it had nothing to do with the politician’s photo-opp, and as a brand it remains politically neutral.
So it’s been a rough weekend.
On Friday, the Chancellor shared a photo of our tea. Politicians do that sometimes (Jeremy Corbyn did it in 2017). We weren’t asked or involved – and we said so the same day. Lots of people got angry with us all the same. pic.twitter.com/7uVmKDf7Jd
— Yorkshire Tea (@YorkshireTea) February 24, 2020
Yorkshire Tea’s social media team went on to implore people to show a little more kindness and restraint online, reminding them that behind every brand’s social media profile is a real human being just trying to do their job. That wasn’t enough to placate some people, however, and they continued to vent their anger at the brand, which resulted in the following tweet:
Sue, you’re shouting at tea.
Please do look after yourself and try to be kind to others. We’re going to mute you now.
— Yorkshire Tea (@YorkshireTea) February 25, 2020
The hashtag #SueYoureShoutingAtTea quickly became the top trending topic in the UK, securing its place in history as the perfect retort to anybody venting excessive, misplaced anger on social media. Within 24 hours the hashtag had been mentioned nearly 10k times.
While a lot of people kept shouting about politics, others tried to be more supportive to the person behind the Twitter account, and social media managers from other brands reached out to offer their support, including the company’s main competitor:
Just wanted to let you know that I’m here for you. DM me if you fancy a cuppa 💚❤️ From one social media manager to another #cuppastogether
— PG tips (@PGtips) February 25, 2020
Through several days of their unexpected moment in the spotlight the Yorkshire Tea team remained calm and measured in the face of a lot of undeserved vitriol, and in the process set the gold-standard for how brands should handle this kind of social media crisis. We expect this story to be retold in a lot of digital marketing industry conferences and training sessions for years to come.
You’d think once the dust settled on this storm in a teacup (sorry not sorry) the guys at Yorkshire Tea would be able to take a moment to catch their breath and decompress, but a social media manager’s work is never over…
Recently, scientists discovered that one plastic tea bag releases around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion smaller nanoplastic particles into a cup. Dear @PGtips @TwiningsTeaUK @tetleyuk @YorkshireTea, any plans to change this?
— Bryan Adams (@bryanadams) February 26, 2020