For years, marketers have kept an eye on the Girl Scouts of America — and not just because they’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of a box of Tagalongs. The pigtailed soldiers in green sashes aren’t only learning how to set up a tent and how to bake. They’re also learning how to market. Today’s Girl Scout should be getting badges in digital engagement, social media marketing and blogging. Yet as a PR nightmare brews, perhaps the Girls should be getting trained on putting out fires, too.
The Girl Scouts, like any smart business, has embraced the social media era. The group blogs about big Girl Scout events. It tweets about troops with high cookie sales. And the Girls love Facebook. The group’s Facebook fan page was used this cookie season as a hub to connect people with local troops who sell Samoas, Thin Mints and other treats.
But today, this highly-effective page, which was previously showered with love from cookie junkies around the globe, now is covered in messages of concern and outrage. Steel yourself: The controversial ingredient palm oil, which has been linked to both child labor in Indonesia and rainforest destruction, is a key ingredient in our beloved Girl Scout cookies. Two rogue scouts from Michigan have started a mini revolution online, demanding that CEO Kathy Cloninger stop the use of palm oil. Cloninger has thus far ignored requests to meet with the girls and has not issued a statement about the controversy.
Cloninger did her girls another disservice by not facing the fire right away and hopping on her social networks to talk about the palm oil drama. Not employing our social media resources in times of crisis to talk to our customers is just silly — and Cloninger’s mistake can be our valuable lesson. Non-profits and businesses alike (especially those like the Girl Scouts of America, which brings in $714 million a year from cookie sales) can no longer turn their heads when the public gets ticked off.