The rapid development of social media has created a unique opportunity for businesses to communicate with consumers.
And consumers with businesses.
Through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms, companies can deliver their message directly to millions of potential customers at the same time.
Feedback is virtually immediate.
Social media users aren't shy about letting the world know what they think about a company's products and policies, posting comments, photos and videos on the platform of their choice.
The online chatter is often lively as customers banter back and forth about the pros and cons of new products.
The social media conversation offers a rich and valuable source of consumer information for businesses.
Unfortunately, social media commentary can turn ugly, and companies are forced to closely monitor what is said about them online.
Responding to social media attacks can be tricky -- businesses don't want to alienate potential customers. But sometimes companies have no choice but to push back when the comments get out of line.
General Mills recently found itself in that position when one of its television commercials drew the ire of certain social media bullies.
The ad featured a multiracial family talking about the "heart healthy" benefits of Cheerios. A YouTube version attracted thousands of viewers, most of whom liked it, but, sadly, some viewers posted angry, racist comments.
In response, General Mills quickly had the offensive comments removed. More importantly, the company refused to pull the ad, denying the racists what would have been a very public victory if the commercial had been taken off the air.
Given the growing influence of social media, it would have been understandable -- regrettable but understandable -- had the company opted to avoid controversy and pulled the ad.
"There are many kinds of families and Cheerios just wants to celebrate them all," Meredith Tutterow, associate marketing director for Cheerios and Multigrain Cheerios at General Mills, told The New York Times.
It's disturbing that some people cling to racist attitudes and even more disturbing that they apparently feel no shame in posting public comments that confirm their idiocy.
The anonymity of social media makes it easy for the haters out there to attack companies and individuals.
General Mills deserves credit for responding quickly and appropriately. And for giving us another reason to love Cheerios.
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