Here’s one way for businesses to use social media—to trash a government agency! In my opinion, it’s generally not a good idea to purposefully pick fights with government agencies. Very rarely will such an approach yield positive results, and often all you will accomplish is to draw negative attention from the agency.
Throwing such caution to the wind, an Illinois pet-food company, All-Feed Processing & Packaging, has focused its social media efforts on criticizing the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). It has posted YouTube videos where the company criticizes an OSHA inspection of the facility, and it maintains a Facebook page called, “OSHA Watch.” The company’s website also has an OSHA page where the company talks about “the oppression of American business” and the “Congressional mandate to OSHA concerning the pet food industry: Punish first, compliance second.”
Now, perhaps it’s not surprising that All-Feed has a beef with OSHA. According to an OSHA Regional News Release, the company has been inspected ten times since 2000, it’s been cited for 43 serious, 19 willful, five repeat and 10 other-than serious violations, and following a January 2011 inspection, the company’s violations qualified it for placement in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, a program designed for companies “with a history of safety violations that endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law.” Additionally, on August 12, 2011, an Illinois federal district court found All-Feed in contempt for barring OSHA inspectors from its facility. (Solis v. All-Feed Processing & Packaging, Civil Action Number: 11 MC 1054.)
Not content to sit back while All-Feed trashes it online, OSHA is apparently monitoring and responding to All-Feed’s social media efforts. On August 5, 2011, All-Feed posted on the OSHA Watch Facebook page that “Jordan Barab [an OSHA official] threatens industry … what’s new. Posturing, posturing, posturing. Grrrr. Be afraid. Lead by fear!” The next day, Barab fired back. “No threat to industry stated or implied here. Just not pulling back on whatever we can do to protect workers.”
To me this is an interesting juxtaposition. Usually we think of businesses in the role that the OSHA official found himself in—using Facebook and social media to respond to customer or consumer complaints and to protect the company’s corporate image. Here, however, the company’s post looks much more like the rants of an angry customer.
Do you think the company’s approach will help or harm? How does your company use social media to create or protect its corporate image?