Monday, July 02, 2012

When Social Media Branding Backfires

Social media gives consumers the power to either make--or completely break--a brand’s main image, prestige, and influence on the public market. Social issues, opinions, and organized perceptions of changing society have taken charge of a brand’s ability to sell its product, all thanks to digital media. 

However, brands easily underestimate that social media can either be their best friend, or, if used without caution, their worst enemy. Take the fateful Nestle Facebook blunder of 2010, for example. When Nestle moderators warned against fans using modified-versions of the brand logo as their own Facebook profile pictures, fans and consumers criticized them harshly for it. Nestle’s crass and rude behavior in response to their fans created frenzy in the social media community, forcing Nestle to retreat and formulate a backup plan. 

There were two issues that came about here: 
1. The Company lost its brand voice in the heat of the moment and lashed out at consumers. 
2. There wasn’t a strategic backup plan in case of a social media code red. 

Another instance of a social media mishap involved Kenneth Cole, when their official Twitter account tweeted a joke about the disaster in Cairo, Egypt and utilized it as a promotional tool for the brand’s spring collection. Needless to say, people judged this social media attire as being worn in extremely poor taste.  Kenneth Cole’s decision is one that brands constantly struggle with: utilizing social media influence to communicate their brand voice in the appropriate way.

Company behaviors that lead to mishaps are usually because the brand is unprepared and underestimates the social media platform they are participating in.  Simon Abramovitch of NVI formulated an info graphic that maps out social media debacles within a brand.  He shows three variables (Good and Bad Intentions, Offline and Online instances, and Proactive to Reactive) and develops a framework showing the parallels within each variable, depicted through John Lovett’s book Social Media Metrics. 

Here are the 8 typical social media debacles Abramovitch defines with resolutions or tips to avoid each scenario:

1. One-time disasters (e.g. BP oil spill that gained widespread online awareness).
Answer: Create a digital media response plan to participate in conversations about the problem and take proactive measures to ease the consumer.

2. Lack of presence (brand misinterpretation).
Answer: Listen and monitor the brand’s social buzz with proactive alerts from social media tracking software.

3. Poor performance.
Answer: Set expectations and respond to consumers in a short window of time with pre-planned social media responses. 

4. Poor response.
Answer: Educate the employees and administer “enterprise-wide training” on social media to create one single brand voice across the company.

5. Presenting harsh refutes and under-the-belt responses or publishing material 
that could face backlash.
Answer:  Test the market and develop satisfaction metrics by asking influential fans and brand advocates for feedback.

6. The attack of the “Night of the Living Haters”, who plague a brand’s page with negativity or unfavorable remarks.
Answer: Never lose control of the brand’s page, its voice, or its corporate mission in customer service. Opinions are welcome, but the brand ultimately rules its page, not the consumers. 

7. Unethical or false business practices.
Answer: Take responsibility for all of the skeletons in your organization’s closet while being conscious of new and upcoming partnerships and practices. Controversial information or business practices can become a public issue and, if you can’t change the reality, you should at least be prepared to address critics. 

8. Deceptive campaigns, such as putting up fake brand representatives, or testimonials (examples being “astroturfing”and “flogs”).
Answer: In this case, follow the opposite of the famous sports motto. Don’t just do it. Transparency is a critical component of social media communication and, once that trust is lost, it can be very difficult to regain. Consumers want real stories, and real human beings answering their questions with actionable solutions.  

A brand that exemplifies this concept is Coca-Cola, which, contrary to Kenneth Cole’s example, took a more socially-conscious approach to the Cairo disaster. The brand launched its “Today I Will” campaign, encouraging the young Arab community to post inspiring videos of themselves on Facebook. Coca Cola took its time and created a more personal connection and open dialogue between the company and consumer, focusing on its target audience. 

According to a Princeton University marketing study, when a brand is perceived as honest, sincere, and warm, this highly impacts a consumer’s decision to purchase the product, and their continuing loyalty to it. Taking this route maintains stronger social media relationships for the long run, compared to the short-term focus of just tacking a social message alongside the product. 

Brands must find the right balance in the digital world in order to engage with audiences while still owning their voice and messaging. By understanding and embracing that consumers have more power than they used to because of social media, brands can re-channel that knowledge into strategies that will not only generate dedicated customers, but increase sales profits too.

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