(Social) Listening to the Peanut Gallery

Posted by Dave Strong, Account Manager

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back…

Ah, peanuts and baseball, an inseparable pairing nearly as old as the game itself.  Until now, that is.  This Monday evening at Wrigley Field, the center field Batter's Eye skybox will be designated a "peanut-free zone," meaning not only will peanut vendors not be visiting that section, but that the nuts themselves, and any product using peanuts or at risk for cross-contamination, are banned entirely.  Why would the Cubs take such a drastic step, flying in the very face of Americana itself? 

Because Facebook told them to. 

Or, more appropriately, because a community of Facebook users reached out with a specific problem, and the Cubs took advantage of the opportunity to strengthen the brand.

Nearly 1.3% of Americans are estimated to have some level of peanut allergy.  A reaction from exposure to peanuts can cause respiratory failure, swelling, heart failure and even death.  According to MedicineNet.com, peanut allergies are the most common cause of food allergy-related death, with 150-200 cases per year.   Peanut allergies can be triggered by contact with another person who has eaten peanuts, airborne peanut protein particles, or by ingesting traces of peanut ingredients in other foods. Given the extreme dangers, one can easily understand why a parent of a child with a peanut allergy would be reluctant to bring that child to a major league ballpark where peanuts have always been regarded as a quintessential part of the experience.

In June of this year, Joyce Davis of Gurnee, IL took her 10-year-old daughter Julia, a peanut allergy sufferer and Cubs fan, to her first-ever game at Wrigley.   Even with extreme precautions taken, Julia's allergy eventually forced her to leave the game after only 30 minutes.  Davis sent a letter to the Cubs' organization.  She then started a Facebook page requesting a peanut-free zone at the ballpark.  The Facebook campaign gathered a small but passionate following, and eventually the Cubs responded by designating the peanut-free zone in the ballpark.  The move has been enthusiastically supported by others affected by peanut allergies. 

And the movement is gathering steam.  In fact, the New York Times estimates that nearly one-third of all MLB teams will offer some type of peanut-free seating this season.

The ways that customers interact with brands has completely changed with the growth of social networking.  Requests for special consideration or complaints about unfair treatment are no longer a one-on-one interaction between the customer and a customer service department.  These interactions are occurring in cyberspace with greater frequency.  No longer satisfied to hash out their issues in private, many consumers air their grievances via wall postings on branded Facebook pages, giving users across the Facebook community the opportunity to weigh in.  Adoption of these communication tools is creating new challenges for advertisers, and many companies are still struggling to figure out how to use them to their fullest advantage.  Social listening is still in its infancy in many ways, but some web-savvy companies are already using unconventional channels to address customers’ specific demands.  And now Julia can go see her Cubs.

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