Sometimes last words are better than first

The Muck Boots fiasco had few winners

When angry, count to four; when very angry swear. — Mark Twain

A few weeks ago the posse got together again. From the looks of it, there had been an egregious event: On The Original Muck Boots Facebook there was a note about a fundraiser that would benefit the HSUS.

Cue the howls. Daily bloggers, ag media, hunters and farmers piled onto Facebook to pile on. “I encourage you to head over and leave your comments,” was the battle cry. On Facebook, The Original Muck Boots brand was denounced. Boots were burned. Comments whirled onto the Muck Boots page for a weekend without being answered, or seemingly even noticed. It was an ugly scene. Mob scenes always are, but it wasn’t just Muck Boots that looked bad.

The unchecked siege on Muck Boot’s social media channels continued for a few days. When Muck Boots finally noticed the rain of social media barbs and arrows, a meek head peeked above the parapet. The fundraiser was something done among employees to honor a fellow employee who had passed away, said the company. The donation wasn’t intended for the HSUS, it said. The money was going to a local shelter.

Unfortunately for Muck Boots, the employees’ donation hadn’t been delivered yet, so when the mob descended on the shelter to verify the claim, it was roiled further. Conspiracy was announced. There was no donation, said the comments. It got uglier.

A little too late, a detailed explanation and apology came from Muck Boots. The apology said Facebook wasn’t the place to memorialize an employee. It reiterated that the Facebook post that had said the money would go to HSUS was inaccurate; the money would go to a local shelter (as requested by the family of the deceased). A final reiteration: the money wasn’t a corporate gift, but something collected among employees to honor their former co-worker.

The fiasco, including the use of a corporate social media account to jovially raise money for the dead, was a
string of mistakes, wrote Sean O’Brien of Muck Boots.

It was a public relations train wreck, no doubt. When all of this broke, I had the cavalier thought of directing people to the melee to join up in arms. But I kept it in check. Opponents like HSUS are best handled with forethought and due consideration. These groups are the masters of emotion. Their leadership and adherents do frenzy and do it well. You cannot out-outrage them.

Yet it was the fact that the story was still in motion that stirred my judgment. Better to let it play a little than jump in too quickly, I thought. There is a lesson from this event for everyone.

For Muck Boots, it’s obvious: monitor your social media. The damage to the brand could have been avoided with early intervention. For those of us in the country who like the fact that social media can amplify our voices, one lesson is to let events unfold before calling for boycotts or burning things. The power (and at times the responsibility) to speak out against someone is tempered with the need for judiciousness.

Reactionaries who make an all-or-nothing claim at the onset of a still-fluid event are easily classified not just as reactionary, but overwrought and alarmist. Overdone response to the slightest whiff of something a group doesn’t like tends to erode public confidence. The group is discredited. Down in the swamps of comments about Muck Boots, I think you’ll find some discrediting voices.

That’s not to say your voice isn’t needed for agriculture, hunting and rural culture in general. Out here in the country we talked for a generation about an easy to predict event. We said that when everyone moved to the cities, we’d be a minority and misunderstood. Now it has happened.

If you haven’t noticed, when general vote comes up that affects the way you farm, urban votes are difficult to overcome. Groups like HSUS know that. When animal rights groups come to a state to turn an election, they don’t spend much money in rural areas.

Your voice needs to remain credible to defend against the caricature that your opponents make of you. There have been times for outrage in the past. There will be times for outrage in the future. Yet, if everything stirs outrage, people stop listening.

Organization, more than the social media mob, is the way forward. Organization takes time and money. There truly is a challenge ahead of us.

-Steve Fairchild, Editor
Today’s Farmer magazine
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