PepsiCo’s The Quaker Oats Company has come under fire this week after a lawsuit was filed against the brand arguing that the company’s “100% natural” claims are misleading.

The suit filed on behalf of consumers in New York and California was prompted by tests revealing traces of the herbicide glyphostate in the brand’s oatmeal. Even though the level of glyphostate in a Quaker Oats product was at 1.18 parts per million – well below the allowed 30 parts per million considered be safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, many customers were alarmed by the findings.

To this day, Quaker has remained very reserved in its comments on the controversy. The company issued a brief statement to the media assuring that its products are completely safe, but refrained from responding to the public outcry on social media, where customers aired their concerns about the use of the herbicide.

Social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms play a very important role in today’s information landscape, and they must be taken seriously. However, Quaker’s hesitation to engage the critics is understandable, for it faces a serious dilemma.

On the one hand, engaging with critics on social media can sometimes blow problems out of proportion. Responding to a negative comment may attract even more attention to the post, keeping the negative thread high in search results and more visible to the public.

On the other hand, however, ignoring the public outcry may lead to more serious challenges to the brand’s reputation down the road. Considering that many journalists and bloggers often use social media as news sources, such PR crises can easily spill over into traditional media channels and receive wider coverage.

Such decisions require a thoughtful approach and should not be made in the heat of the moment. Whether Quaker will continue abstaining from engaging with critics on social media remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this latest controversy serves as a good example of the changing rules of engagement for modern crisis PR.

The evolving media landscape completely changed the way crisis communications experts must look at and approach PR crises. The rapid expansion of various media platforms has added a level of complexity to crisis management, further reinforcing the need for companies to have a crisis PR plan in place before an incident occurs.

Is your company prepared for an unexpected social media backlash? How would you react if you were in Quaker’s position? Let us know in the comments section.