Stick a Fork in Her: Is Paula Deen’s Career Done?

Celebrity chef Paula “just add a stick of butter” Deen is in some seriously hot water, y’all.

Since the disclosure last week that she made racially insensitive remarks in a deposition, and even described planning a plantation-themed wedding where black waiters were to dress like “slaves,” her career has been in utter freefall.

All of this since last Friday; take a look:

  • Food Network cancelled her two shows: Paula’s Home Cooking & Paula’s Best Dishes
  • Smithfield Foods terminated their relationship with Deen
  • QVC has “no immediate plans” to have her appear on their channel
  • Sears, Walmart, and Caesars Entertainment Corp. are reviewing their relationships with Deen

Here at the TKGenius blog, we’ll keep our personal opinions on the matter to ourselves. We are interested, however, as a web-focused blog, in the social media aspect of this debacle. In fact, almost all of this has played out on social media, with traditional news shows like the Today Show (we’re looking at you, Matt Lauer) getting passed over for YouTube.

Whether you’re pro-Paula or anti-Paula, there’s plenty of social media fodder on both sides.

First, the Anti-Paula side:

The anti-Paula sentiment is most strongly felt on Twitter. Over the weekend, the hashtag #PaulasBestDishes started trending and went crazy-viral. The vast majority of these tweets are plays on her racist comments; for the best “jokes” head over to Salon.com. (Note: these are super edgy.)

You can also go to Twitter and check out hashtags #PaulaDeen and #PaulaDeenToday for a sampling of what people are currently saying.

Then there’s this scathing commentary on the Daily Show, which is making the rounds on the Internet:

Deen also bailed on the Today Show on Monday and later issued this bizarre YouTube apology, which became the subject of even more ridicule (note that comments and the ability to embed the video have both been disabled).

Legions of Pro-Paula fans responded:

Her loyal followers, of which there are many, have taken primarily to Facebook to defend Deen, promising to boycott the Food Network and unsubscribe from their magazine. They’ve completely taken over the Food Network’s fan page, turning it into a forum to voice their support for Paula and displeasure with the Food Network.

This recipe for Zucchini Casserole of the Food Network’s Facebook page has over 4,000 likes, 2,000 shares, and 21,000 comments – virtually none to do with zucchini and everything to do with the controversy.

food network zucchini casserole

Dozens of Facebook fan pages in support of Paula Deen have popped up, too, like this one with over 400,000 fans:

paula deen facebook

Lessons from Paula’s Debacle:

Time will tell which side wins, although clearly her brand has been massively harmed – I think we can all agree on that. Regarding the rest of her endorsements and deals still up in the air, like QVC, I think it comes down to perception vs. revenue. Is it more beneficial to the bottom line to keep her or let her go? (Sad reality of corporate America.)

On the social media front, this is yet another important lesson and reminder that scandals like this one and countless others take place on social media first. Traditional media is taking a backseat, reporting after the fact, sometimes days later, what’s already been happening on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

If you’re a big business, it’s essential to have a PR crisis communications and response plan that is HEAVY on social media. Just look at how quickly Deen’s empire has (apparently) crumbled, and where most of the conversation has occurred.

If you’re a small business, you won’t be engaged in a Paula Deen-style social media debacle should the worst happen, but it’s still important to stay on top of brand messaging, perceptions and customer concerns. Seemingly little things on social have a way of becoming….bigger.

Social media is here to stay. Be ready for it, y’all.

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