How to really protect your brand from social media crises

Social media storm

I used to love Twitter. I used to love the spirited debate, focussed by the forced brevity of 140 characters. I used to love the witty repartee and articulate viewpoints. Those days are over.

Now I find myself spending more time on Facebook and Instagram, although those aren’t safe spaces either. No platform is spared the social media outrage epidemic that seems to have gripped even the most rational minds. The smallest mishap, either by a brand or individual, can set off a massive online backlash with cries of, “That’s offensive!”

Social media can be a fantastic tool for bringing attention to injustices. The problem is that when it becomes an everyday occurrence, where words are taken out of context or an ambiguous turn of phrase are misinterpreted (or are simply outright lies), it simply turns into an overbearing wall of noise.

I apprehensively log onto Twitter in the morning and think, “What is the mob going to argue and whine about today?” Not only is meaning lost, but these knee-jerk reactions to the most infinitesimal “offences” can lead to many nervous brand managers and incredibly boring brand communication. The irony being that even when a brand plays it safe, it can still upset a lot of people.

So what are brands to do in the era of the social media mob? Interestingly, the brands that succeed in this witch-hunt environment are the ones with a strong point of view – the brands that know and live by their brand purpose.

It sounds obvious, but just as social media has previously exposed massive service issues at respected companies, it is now exposing companies with a serious lack of brand maturity and digital marketing intelligence.

One only needs to look at the company that asked a journalist to remove a tweet to get a sense of how misaligned some marketing teams are. I highly doubt the marketing director would have made the same call. The problem lies in the fact that not everybody at the organisation is fully aware of what the brand would and would not do.

The companies that are best equipped to deal with social media outrage are the ones where every single employee, from shelf packer to CEO, has a deep understanding of what the brand mission is and what their responsibility is as a custodian of the brand.

In the digital and social media age, “brand” does not belong to the marketing and PR team (although they should at least be getting it right), it belongs to every employee.

This means that a slap on the wrist for a community manager who makes a mistake is not going to solve the problem. It only leads to a culture of fear, blame and mind-numbingly boring marketing. What is needed is an organisation-wide induction of what the brand stands and strives for. Once this is achieved, the results permeate throughout the entire consumer experience and consistent brand messaging becomes an effortless self-fulfilling prophecy.

The only way to achieve this is for companies to shake off the shackles of traditional marketing “wisdom” based on principles from the 1960s and forge a new path – a path where the risk of a social media faux pas is negligible because the brand purpose is internalised within every employee.



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