Is social media turning conscience keeper for brands? It would seem so, given the manner in which celebrities, politicians and brands have faced the ire of a large and outraged army of public defenders. Take the case of Air India (AI), an ill-behaved politician and the airline’s silent support for its employees is all it took for the otherwise maligned brand to trend (favourably) on social media.
Interestingly AI did nothing; there was no public denouement of the bad behaviour, which is how a strong brand may have reacted. But AI benefited from a strong wind against the boorish politician. In the case of United Airlines (UA), social media turned on the brand for its bad behaviour against a passenger. The CEO of UA did make a public statement but it was programmed damage control and did nothing to douse the fires.
And then there was actor Abhay Deol who found overwhelming support when he posted a series of old ads of fairness creams and called out the inherent racism of the brands and his fellow actors. How do brands deal with such situations and combat the rising power of social media? Two experts weigh in on the matter:
‘Programmed messages don’t work’
We are living in an ‘always live’ world. Everyone everywhere is able to come out with a report, an opinion and does not have to depend on traditional media. As individuals, brands, celebrities and brand endorsers we all need to learn to live in a live and transparent world. And that is the first principle of the new world: You are always under scrutiny.
In this world, brands need to respond. None has the option of being honest when one wants to; you have to be upfront all the time. No complaint can go unheard and brands have to respond within 30 seconds to a maximum of a minute or face the backlash. That is the expectation. And the second principle of this world is: Respond always, respond quickly.
Programmed messages don’t work. Take the British Airways case, when Sachin Tendulkar tweeted about his lost baggage, they responded with a standard message and then everything blew up. Brands cannot afford to do that.
Finally the third principle: Brands must be mindful of their public behaviour. We have all been taught, growing up, what is acceptable behaviour inside and outside the home. Brands can’t afford to indulge in loose talk or slip up in their behaviour in a world where nothing is private.
Let us take recent cases where social media has slammed down on brand behaviour albeit in very different ways. For AI, here was an example of the third principle being flouted by the politician. He behaved badly, tried to justify it and that led to public support for the airline. In the case of UA, the airline flouted the third principle and was duly punished. Fair & Lovely is different; it is a product that is allowed to be made and hence has every right to be sold. But the brand must understand how to behave in public, recognise that qualities such as grooming or confidence building are more acceptable than fairness.
KV (Pops) Sridhar
(The author is founder and chief creative officer, Hyper Collective)
‘Social media does not take well to intervention’
There are brand keepers on social media and they are working to ensure that brands communicate correctly and properly at all times. But as the platforms open up to larger and larger circles, communication will get controversial. There are bound to be issues that will influence people (for or against) a brand and companies must be ready to deal with those.
Do I think that social media needs to be controlled? Well, I don’t think one can do that but one must definitely look at taming it, as it were, in certain cases or within certain areas where an incendiary comment or remark can be used by motivated people. But social media does not take well to intervention. Take AI, people have come out in its favour, but the organisation preferred to keep silent on social media. (The chairman supported his employees and managed to get the support of other airlines and the government over a proposed no-fly list.) Completely opposite was the impact of an intervention that UA did to stem public ire. The problem arises when you try and intervene with the aim of forcing a desired result. Rebuttals are problematic.
Take the problem of Hindustan Unilever and Fair & Lovely. As a keeper of the product and the brand, the company was right to keep quiet, but it does not mean that it should not address the core issues around the use of the product.
How important is social media to a brand’s communication? Based on the research that we have done, social media reach requires a nuanced understanding of the issue. In general social media helps improve brand recall, but message penetration on the medium is minimal. Reading and retention is very poor on social media. Still that does not mean that brands can ignore its growing and vast presence. Read More..