General Mills Unlikes Its New Legal Terms

They roll back website legal terms after customers express outrage

There are many fascinating things about General Mills’ PR headache of the last week and there are lessons to be learned. In a blog post announcing they are rolling back changes to their website legal terms, they seem baffled by the uproar their new legal terms ignited.  I’ll share just three thoughts here about their current uncomfortable situation and lessons for modern marketing:

Tree roots signifying trust1) Always Hook into the Bigger Picture
General Mills was blindsided by the fact that people were actually reading their legal terms update. We are literally steeping right now in debate over digital rights issues. Everyone from the White House through mainstream media to product label readers are tuned in and seeking out how digital interactions are exposing them, helping them or harming them. In this environment of heightened sensitivity, website legal disclosures and privacy policies are being scrutinized by customers and watch dog agencies and media like never before. It should have come as no surprise to General Mills that the change in policy might spark this tinder-dry landscape.

Understanding your broader operating environment is critical when communicating a change with your customers. This means looking across the landscape and to how your new story – whatever it is – connects into the bigger picture. This seems to have been a failure to connect the dots between the customer’s environment and the customer.

2) All Sites Are Your Sites
In a statement about mischaracterizations that the act of joining one of their online communities was included as triggering its broad policy requiring arbitration in the event of a dispute, General Mills clarified their position about “online communities” as those associated with their websites. This is a confusing disconnect between their legal terms and their privacy policy terms. General Mills’ privacy policy makes it very clear that third party social networking sites are included in the term “our Sites.”

More importantly, this perspective reflects a misunderstanding of social customers. Customers who “like” your Facebook page, or follow you on Pinterest or on Twitter or in a hundred other places indeed consider themselves part of your community – regardless of where they choose to interact with you. They see no distinction, no boundary, between interacting with you on your owned websites or on your shared social platforms. Little wonder that social customers felt this policy was indeed aimed squarely at them.

3) Language Choices Matter
General Mills refers in its blog post apology not to its “customers,” but to “consumers.” For many people this may go unnoticed, but the social customer who has been invited into a “community” believes they are more than “a consumer.”  The choice of “consumer” is a strong language signal that undermines the idea of community. When you refer to your customer as “the consumer” you are speaking from a distance far-away, not from within the community. Language can undermine the trust you’ve worked so hard to build with people.



Categories: Modern Marketing, Visibility


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