Water for the People, But A Crisis for the Company

When a natural disaster occurs, it is always encouraging to see how much help, love, and prayers are poured forth from the general public. People and companies across the world donate what they can to help. Recently, the Philippines have seen some of that generosity. The country is recovering from a massive typhoon that devastated communities across the islands. Now the people are struggling to find food and clean water. So when Instagramers saw that People Water was offering to solve that problem, they jumped on the bandwagon pretty quickly.

People Water is a company that defines itself as a “for-profit, cause-based business that is committed to alleviating the global water crisis.” Their claim is that for every bottle of People Water purchased, the company will give an equal amount of clean water to someone in need. On November 12th, the picture below appeared on Instagram with the caption “EVERY REPOST = 1 @peoplewater will donate $1 for every repost #peoplewater”.

people water

Cody Barker, one of the founders of People Water, was the one who originally posted this picture. It soon exploded all over social media as people started sharing in support of the Philippines. However, People Water posted on Instagram a day later explaining that they weren’t entirely on board with this campaign. “People Water’s management was not consulted about this campaign before it was posted to our social media outlets,” claimed the post. “In an honest attempt to help those in need, some of our employees hurriedly decided to launch this initiative…Although our employees’ intent was sincere, we are troubled by what may be perceived as an advertising campaign based on those who are seriously suffering.” They go on to say that they will honor their commitment for the first day’s shares during their regular business hours, but that they can’t afford to give any more.

Looking at this from a public relations standpoint, People Water did almost everything right. They were honest with their public and tried to communicate that to them as best they could. They shared the “open letter” on their website and Instagram, making it as clear as possible that they didn’t want to hide anything. As Coombs advises in Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics by Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron, People Water minimized their responsibility for the fiasco by making excuses. While this may seem like a cop-out, finding someone else to blame is a successful way to change the way the public views your business. In this case, the scapegoat was Cody Barker. Unfortunately, he didn’t have full permission from the company to post such a generous offer. Because of his actions and their “limited resources,” People Water was put in an awkward place. In an attempt to save their reputation, they had to let Barker go and show their public that they are doing everything they can to ensure this won’t happen again.

But not everything was handled correctly. Many Instagram users claimed that they couldn’t reach the company by phone or email in the aftermath of the crisis. Whether this was due to an influx of phone calls or the company was purposely avoiding their customers, People Water violated the number one rule during a public relations crisis: be accessible. Had they picked up the phone, they might not have so many angry consumers talking smack about them on social media.

What do you think People Water should have done? How should they move forward?

– Christine Schulze

12 thoughts on “Water for the People, But A Crisis for the Company

  1. I don’t think they should have fired Barker. They should have said yes he acted outside his authority, but they appreciated his fervour and desire to make a difference and would honour his commitment for the first day and that is all they could afford at this time. they should have also said that they like the idea and would work toward be financially stable enough to do this type of thing in the future (Like Toms shoes)
    And as you indicated they should have been availabe to take calls.

  2. I remember seeing this instagram and thinking it was a fantastic idea but did not trust whether People Water would actually do what they said. Clearly my instincts were right after reading this post. I like that they were honest and apologetic about their mistake and tried to handle it as professionally as possible but if the purpose of their company is to provide water for those in need, they should have made themselves as accessible as possible during a crisis like this. This will not help their image in future events but maybe if they host a specific event for the Philippines or let the public know they are now doing more to help the situation they can gain some trust back and convince us they mean what they say and are there to help.

  3. I agree that it sounds like they did most things right. I respect the fact that they were honest about how much help they could give and they didn’t try and “sweep it under the rug”. In todays world, too many companies try and hide the facts when something happens. The company should have acknowledged the phone calls and emails from the public. I feel it is very unprofessional not to respond to emails or return phone calls. Susan Willetts, COM 231

  4. I honestly think People Water did just about a perfect job on handling this mistake. The fact that they issued a sincere and honest apology after the crisis and donated to the Philippine natural disaster, shows how responsible they are in insuring their brand is not harmed. The only aspect that could have been better was how they increased the size of the gap between the brand and their customers. Customers should always be put first and when this doesn’t happen, any company can be harmed. People Water should create a campaign to help the Philippines but this time it needs to be one they can actually afford, is thoroughly planned out, and correctly promoted. A new and logical campaign will help the brand’s image advance and help individuals move on/forget about this mistake.

  5. I have seen much of this on Instagram, and not just with People Water. Many companies do the same just to promote their brand. I was skeptical about People Water just like I have been about other companies because there’s no way to tell if they are actually going to donate. I do think they handled their crisis very effectively by being honest and explaining what happened. If they were more accessible and took time to answer their customers during this time, I feel as if their would have much more positive feedback from their crisis.
    Kierstin Geary

  6. Damon Lilly
    I saw this during my time wasted on Instagram and hoped that it met with great success. The post by this IMC 2 student makes a lot of great points. The dishonesty of People Water is very sad but the handling of the situation is somewhat respectable. They were apologetic and honest in the apology which helps to regain some of the trust in the brand that may have been lost. The mission of the company is very respectable and they have done a lot of good things. As they grow as a brand I think it is necessary that they re-evaluate their efforts to help in the Philippines. This second effort will greatly help to re-establish their credibility as a brand and is a great cause.

  7. I think that the company handled the situation almost as perfectly as they could have. It is great that they responded quickly and were honest about their mistake. However, I think that the whole problem could have been easily avoided if the company simply had someone proof the tweet before it was posted. I think it was very irresponsible for Barker to tweet such a promise without consulting others in the company. Social Media, while it seems to be just a simple way for companies to interact with customers, is a serious business. Everything posted is a representation of the brand and the trust People Water lost will be hard to gain back.

  8. I agree with how the organization handled the situation– the rhetoric after a public relations crisis such as this can be tricky to manage, but they quickly explained the mistake and issued an apology. I feel bad for the founder who was let go, because it’s clear that his heart was in the right place, but he should have brought the idea to the rest of the organization’s upper management, where hopefully someone would have recognized the issues that go along with promising large amounts of money based on internet clicks. I think this is a good example of when a brand’s “heart” gets ahead of it’s budget. At the end of the day, I respect the brand for how they handled the potential fiasco, and it didn’t negatively affect my opinion of them.

  9. I have seen this too on Instagram but was unaware of these conditions. I don’t think they should have fired Baker but they needed to do something to save their name as many people do not appreciate being misled. I think Baker was trying to make a difference, but certainly needed to consult the company before making such plans and promises.

  10. I agree that they did almost everything right. I thinking firing Barker may have been a bit extreme. I think they were absolute right to apologize, and admit that a miscommunication had occurred. I think that people always appreciate honesty. Also, they agreed to uphold the promise made in this post to the best of their ability, even though the entire company may not have been on board. They could have just apologized for the mistake and done nothing in regards to the offer made, but instead they donated as much as they were able to. One thing I think they could have changed was their accessibility after the crisis. Otherwise, I think they did a lot of things appropriately.

  11. I remember scrolling through facebook and instagram and seeing this post for a couple days straight, but then not seeing it posted at all. When I first saw it I thought it was an awesome idea and wanted so badly to believe that People Water was actually giving back all this water, but something inside told me that they may not be donating as much as they say they will. Turns out my instinct was right. I do think the situation was handled efficiently from the beginning, but avoiding the calls of customers is going to lead them to nothing but more trouble between the company and the public. They apologized for the misunderstanding, and the people accepted that, but if their customers wanted to talk more about the issue the company should have been all ears. By avoiding the conflict after they “thought it was all resolved”, they are going to lose supporters for future campaigns, and people are going to begin to question their reliability.There are still many questions that haven’t been answered. I think that if they were able to be open and honest via the internet, than they should be able to be open and honest via direct contact with their customers.

  12. I am so surprised I had missed this on instagram. I had no idea about the campaign how ever i rarely believe the whole “re post and well donate” type of deal. I think the company handled the situation really well by being honest with the public but i can see why people got upset. I think the fact that they still tried to hold up their end of bargain by saying they will contribute the first days worth was really smart. There company would have had even more backlash if they had never addressed the issue and led people to believe.Next time i think they need to make there employees more aware to run ideas by them first to make sure they are not creating promises they can not keep.

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