A "no horsemeat" sign at Bates Butchers in Market Harborough, central EnglandHere are a couple of good Twitter jokes about the recent horsemeat scandal that got re-tweeted numerous times;

“Horse meat has been found in Ikea’s restaurants. There’s a joke in there somewhere, but you’ll need to assemble it yourself. #HorseMeat”

”Not interested Tesco’s horse burgers? Try their meatballs – they really are the dogs bollocks” #tesco #horsemeat #joke”

But these kinds of jokes are no laughing matter for the Brands involved. The development of social media means that negative comment about Brands can go viral very quickly. As public relations consultant Katie Delahaye Paine commented in USA today;

“It’s all over Twitter. You can’t ignore anything related to food these days because it spreads around the world so quickly.”

This trend shows how social media is changing the nature of the negotiations that go on daily between Brands and consumers for their attention, their custom and their goodwill. This is one of the themes covered in my new book on negotiating, “The Yes Book”, out on Random House on March 28th.

Brands can no longer assume that they can dictate their own marketing messages, fuelled by spin. Consumers have an increasingly vocal say in the reputation of Brands and this means that in their negotiations with us Brands have to be ethical, transparent and considerate. In the terminology of my book they need to be “Fusers” genuinely concerned with the interests of their customers, rather than “users” only interested in their own gain, often at the expense of the consumer. This is yet another example of a number of social trends outlined in the book which all point to the need for us to raise our game as negotiators, and consciously apply a negotiating framework to our deal making, rather than just muddling through as we might have done in the past, and assuming we will be able to get away with it.

Here are some more current examples of how social media can create problems for Brands who have not appreciated that a new deal is required when they negotiate with consumers.

1) Tesco

A horrified shopper was left outraged after finding a human tooth in a packet of Tesco sausages before being offered a £25 voucher in compensation.

Tony Hinds, 27, was left stunned after buying the Tesco Finest Pork and Chive bangers at his local store in Sheerness, Kent, for a birthday meal. His fiancée, Lauren Gooch, 21, spotted the tooth, which still had a filling inside, embedded in one of the sausages.

Here are a couple of tweets that followed breaking news of the event, which were themselves re-tweeted;

“Horsemeat found in Tesco burgers, frog found in Tesco salad and TOOTH found in Tesco Finest Sausage, ha whats next!!”

“I can’t believe somebody has found a human tooth in their Tesco sausage. This is getting ridiculous. What next?… “

2) Walmart

In November, 2012 a video went viral of four Walmart employees tossing sealed iPads around in one of the company’s Pikeville, Kentucky stockrooms.

The 48-second clip starts with one employee sarcastically warning the viewers that “this is why you don’t buy an iPad from Walmart”. The video was sent anonymously to Reddit user SenorPierre who then uploaded it to the web.

3) BP

BP Global PR Mermaids NegotiationA blogger managed to set up a fake Twitter account called @BPGlobalPR and used it to send satirical messages pretending to be BP’s PR department. Not very helpful after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. For example;

“The Good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct” and “Of course, BP cares about the fishing industry as well. Now, all tuna from the gulf coast comes pre-packaged in oil. #you’rewelcome #yum”

Here’s the other bad news; the fake BP Twitter account attracted twice as many followers as BP’s official Twitter feeds – @BP_America – and a second one to coordinate clean-up news – @Oil_Spill_2010.

4) McDonald’s

mcdstories vegetarian negotiationIn January last year a Twitter campaign that was supposed to highlight positive stories from McDonald’s suppliers went spectacularly wrong, as unhappy customers tweeted a variety of unpleasant tales — including finding fingernails in their food.

The hashtag #McDStories started with a few tweets from the brand, promoting tales from suppliers…

“Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day #McDStories http://t.co/BoNIwRJS,” one of the tweets said.

But the project didn’t go according to plan. More negative tweets soon started to emerge…

“I haven’t been to McDonald’s in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhea,”

“One time I walked into McDonald’s and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up,”

“As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences,” Rick Wion, McDonald’s social media director, said in a statement to the L.A. Times. Quite…

5) FedEx

A FedEx delivery man was caught by a security camera at the end of 2011, carrying a box containing a computer monitor to the gates of a house and, without even ringing the door bell, carelessly throwing the package over the fence. Adding to the list of grievances, the customer has said he was home with his door open at the time. The video has since been uploaded to YouTube and had 2.4 million hits forcing a groveling apology from FedEx.

6) Starbucks

Starbucks-Spread-The-Cheer-Twitter-negotiationA Starbucks Christmas 2012 Twitter campaign to “spread the cheer” of Christmas backfired after protesters hijacked it to complain about the coffee chain’s tax status, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The coffee firm displayed Twitter messages tagged with #spreadthecheer on a big screen at the Natural History Museum, where Starbucks was sponsoring the ice rink. Unfortunately, the tweets were not checked before being displayed on the screen.

One tweet called Starbucks “tax dodging MoFos”, while another opted for a more blunt message: “Hey Starbucks, PAY YOUR ——- TAX”.

On 16 October, 2012, a day after the allegations emerged, 43 per cent of UK Twitter users heard comments about Starbucks via Twitter with 39 per cent of these being negative. Before the media coverage, just 5 per cent of UK Twitter users had heard comments about Starbucks, and of these just 14 per cent of comments were negative compared to 44 per cent being positive.

Social Media hasn’t just changed the negotiating game for Brands of course – it has also done the same for Governments in the negotiation of their social contract with the populations they govern. The role of social media in the Arab Spring is well documented. Facebook usage swelled in the Arab region between January and April 2011, more than doubling in Egypt and Bahrain and almost doubling in Tunisia.

Different context, same message: Whoever is negotiating for the goodwill of “customers” needs to negotiate differently from now on…