Social media has revolutionised the way we communicate, but it’s also caused some problems.
Issues that shouldn’t touch a brand can become reputational crises within hours. Fringe groups use social media gain disproportionate airtime for views held by a tiny handful of people. Social media gives them a voice. And that voice can get the attention of world leaders.
When President Trump retweeted fake videos posted by the far-right party, Britain First, he didn’t care about the veracity of the content he was giving a platform to. He didn’t care about what would happen as a result. In fact, the White House Press Secretary went on to say that it didn’t matter if the videos were real or not. It was about the message he was sending, not the content he sent.
So, how’s a brand to protect itself in a world where the views of a few can influence people’s opinions with a single tweet or Facebook post? Where ‘fake news’ is adopted by some as fact, simply because it chimes with their personal beliefs?
Where people act and react to what they read or hear without taking the time to think a matter through, to consider the truth?
Brands are involved
Like it or not, brands are being forced to take a stand on political issues. Because sometimes they’ll be dragged into the fray. Major brands have experienced the sudden shock of being attacked by President Trump. Amazon had $5bn wiped off its share value after one critical tweet.
Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers. Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
In 2014, an Australian company came under fire for trying to become a certified Halal supplier (or in the words of its sales and marketing manager, it “copped a pasting online”).
Campaigners against Halal successfully changed the business’ policy, and as a result, it lost a contract to supply Emirates, which would have netted it about $50,000 per annum.
What does this mean for brands?
Prepare for the unexpected
Brands are used to preparing for crises. They know what their business risks are and usually have solid plans in place for how to respond should the worst happen.
But sometimes you can’t see what’s about to happen. Toyota will have crisis plans in place to deal with a recalls. But it couldn’t possibly foresee being called out by the Leader of the Free World on Twitter. The result? Its share prices dropped by over 5% (more than $12bn in market value).
Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S. NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 5, 2017
Scale-up your social media team
Brands need to be able to scale up their social media teams quickly. Sometimes, the regular social media managers won’t have the experience to deal with a sudden, full-blown social media crisis. Even if they do, they’ll need support, and regular breaks. Dealing with any issue is draining, but dealing with a fast-paced crisis as it breaks on social media crisis is exhausting.
Practise dealing with the unexpected
Learning the theory of dealing with a crisis is a good start, but nothing helps you prepare like a practical rehearsal. Involve not just the social media team, but all departments involved in crisis management, in simulating a social media crisis (#shamlessplug). Don’t just rehearse what you know, but throw in a few surprises.
Take a stance
These are the moments that a brand’s values were created for. If you profess to stand for equality, diversity and transparency, you’d better believe that you need to demonstrate these values when it counts.
In 2013, when a Cheerios advert was attacked for showing a multiple heritage family, the brand stated: “Consumers have responded positively to our new Cheerios ad. At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all.”
This does mean opening the brand up to further criticism from extremists, but any reasonable person would respect a brand that adhered to its values, rather than one that only paid heed to them when convenient.
When Keurig was asked why it was advertising on controversial US show Hannity, it responded by saying that it was working with FOX News to get the ad taken off the show. It then faced a backlash from people who supported the conservative commentator.
Standing up for what you believe in means being willing to fight some battles, but it also proves that there is real passion and morality behind the brand, not just empty rhetoric.
Yes, social media can highlight the worst aspects of us, but it can also allow those with the courage to stand by their convictions to stand for what’s right.