Study: Trans Fats Debate Shaped Online

Aug 17, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A new research report contends “online word-of-mouth” has increased the pressure felt by manufacturers and restaurants over the use of trans fats in various foods.

The firm that released the report, BuzzMetrics, analyzed comments on the subject from over 120,000 consumers after Kraft Foods was sued for using partially hydrogenated oils in Oreos.

The average length of online conversations about trans fats increased 50 percent after the lawsuit was filed, according to BuzzMetrics. Comments per conversation increased from 11 to 17. 

Jonathan Carson, president and CEO of BuzzMetrics said, “The controversy over trans fats is a seminal case of the dramatic role that online communities and their influential participants play during industry crises. Online word-of-mouth enabled a lawsuit against one company to shift into a major food-industry policy and public relations crisis, with erratic targeting of numerous other companies. Not surprisingly, much of the consumer-generated information and targeting was misinformed or false. It will be interesting to see what other companies will be drawn into the fray as the new trans fats lawsuit against McDonald’s heats up.

“The trans fats crisis demonstrates why companies in any industry must not disregard their vocal online constituents, but rather embrace them and proactively manage communications,” said Mr. Carson. “By analyzing stakeholder word-of-mouth online, companies can measure the changing volume and dispersion of visibility, gauge ongoing public perception and evaluate feedback on the company’s communications efforts.”

Moderator’s Comment: How has online dialogue shaped
the public’s perception of the trans fat issue and what has this meant for food
manufacturers and restaurant operators?

According to BuzzMetrics, “Nearly 40 percent of the top
100 Google search results for “trans fats and oreo” were consumer-generated,
i.e., blogs, personal home pages and message boards. Top media sites like, and accounted for only 20 percent.

George Anderson – Moderator

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