Monsanto’s Heather McClurg and Nick Weber on getting social at the crisis communication table

“Monsanto gets blamed for a lot of things, and so we have our share of crises.”

In their presentation at our Member Meeting in Chicago, Monsanto's Digital Content Strategy Lead, Nick Weber, along with Social Media Manager Heather McClurg, explain how they redefined the process for handling and responding to online crises. Nick explains that there was a time when Monsanto would not respond to anything, or if they did, it would be wouldn't be until a week later.


The process for handling online crises was slow and inefficient.

It began with someone identifying an issue growing online, an email would be sent out to three people, and maybe social was included. Then it would be forwarded to leadership, who'd then forward it to others. Meanwhile, while the first three people were working on a blog post, it would then be sent to others for input. Someone sends it to legal, legal makes changes, someone brings in subject matter experts, leadership is commenting on the post, etc.


“We would have ten people editing things, and then a week later, a blog post would be published about an issue that was long ago dead in the social media space,” said Nick.

But a new process began to take shape in 2015. With the help of new leadership, they formulated a plan and evangelized it through multiple teams:

  • They choose five to six key leaders to represent different teams during crises. This eliminated the “too many cooks in the kitchen” dilemma.
  • A Response Priority Framework was created to label issues at different levels: high, medium, or low risk.
  • A one-page step-by-step process was created to address each issue individually.

The new protocol begins with social listening.

If an issue is identified as high risk, the new crisis team jumps on a conference call immediately to address the next steps. Once a decision or a strategy has been made, the group emails leadership and legal, notifying them that the issue is already being addressed and the rationale. Once legal gives approval, an issue can be addressed that same day.


They also implemented a digital newsroom, where the team meets daily to discuss the content calendar, trending conversations, items to watch out for, and opportunistic content. “We treat our corporate communications in the social space like a true newsroom,” says Nick. This allows them to identify issues earlier and cuts the process down.

Social listening is now their best defense in preventing crises from escalating, crises such as suing a whole state, or handling rumor control involving the Zika virus.

It's a bad day when your attorneys say ‘we're going to sue the state of California this afternoon.'

Social Media Manager Heather McClurg provided several examples on how the process was put to the test in real-life scenarios.

“It's a bad day when your attorneys say ‘we're going to sue the state of California this afternoon',” said Heather. The issue was to add a chemical in Monsanto's Roundup product, to California's Prop 65, a list of banned chemicals known to cause cancer. Because their largest audience is on Facebook, they decided to publish a long-form post in response to the proposition, stating that their chemical was in fact, not harmful. This helped tone down the conversation around the issue online.

In another instance, they were able to stop a rumor before it grew. They picked up chatter of the Zika virus being related to Monsanto, which was in fact not true. They published a long-form post again to clear up the facts. The post had so much engagement and shares, it was picked up by several media outlets such as the Huffington Post and Fortune, who helped turn the conversation around.


Not every mention online was attacking Monsanto. Sometimes they take a step back to laugh at themselves.

They found an opportunity for engagement when The Onion, a satirical-news outlet, published an article about the company producing killer tomatoes. “This was an opportunity to have license to laugh,” said Heather. Nick had fun with the article by staging and posting a picture of himself under attack by tomatoes. The tweet received a lot of positive feedback and allowed the brand to show a more human side to themselves.


Because of this new process, they were able to build credibility within the company over the next few months and now have more leniency on creating strategies and execution instead of waiting on approval for every post and tweet. “We've gotten [the attorneys] to a comfortable place where they know they can trust us,” said Heather.

Monsanto has been a member since 2014. Watch Heather and Nick's full presentation here, or check out their deck here.