Social media can make or break brands, with consumers incessantly sharing their feedback on the products they consume and services they use in public internet spaces. Negative feedback, if ignored, can throw firms into crisis, say digital thought leader Venke Sharma and digital marketing expert Hushidar Kharas in their book The Indestructible Brand. In a telephonic interview with T K Vineeth, the authors say companies are yet to wake up to the idea of having a crisis management team for social media. Edited excerpts:
When crisis hits a company, it can have an emotional impact on employees. But your book suggests employees not try to defend their company on social media. Why?
Employees may be tempted to react in such circumstances, but emotional reaction will not help. Also, not every employee is equipped to deal with hard questions from customers. It’s better to let the crisis management team do the task. The company should open a direct line of communication with customers. One way employees can help their company is by scanning social media buzz about the brand and report the same to the right team responsible for dealing with it.
Consumer-facing establishments tend to get a heavy flow of negative feedback through social media. What should be the social media strategy of these firms?
Companies should quickly put together their team and peruse at what level the slip has happened – operations, marketing, or at any other level. The other important thing is to build a crisis management playbook. This will help companies to respond quickly to crises as they erupt. The sooner a company responds to the crisis, the better. And, to make the response more effective, always use photographic evidence to support your argument. And, have a designated spokesperson to respond to queries from concerned customers. Brands are built by the love of consumers. When the love is lost, brand value erodes.
How can organisations spot brewing crises and take steps before they erupt?
Anticipating crises is very important. Companies need to listen to discussion by consumers about their experience with the brand. There are technology tools available today that can alert companies whenever their brand names are mentioned in social media and public internet spaces. It is important for companies to invest in listening tools. Also, every company should have a customer commitment officer, who will check if the organisation is actually fulfilling the promises they make to customers.
Your book says poorly thought-through marketing campaigns can backfire, like in the case of McDonald’s. If disgruntled customers hijack promotional campaigns and spin them into parodies, what are the options before the company?
Shaping the narrative is the key for marketing campaigns. You also need to constantly monitor the campaigns to see if customers are getting the message. Watch out for negative comments and respond to the genuine concerns of customers.
While companies can always choose to shut down the campaign if it goes out of hand – like what McD did – they also have the option of engaging with consumers with a sense of humour and repartee. The latter option would work especially in cases where customers don’t have any real issue with brand but are just trying to make fun of the campaign. Also, brands should try to ferret out positive feedback and amplify it.
Are Indian companies investing enough in social media?
Indian companies have embraced social as a marketing tool. They’re investing heavily in creating content and campaigns for social media. What many brands have not realised is the consequence of social media. Anything you say on Twitter is equivalent to an official company statement, and should be treated with the same importance as a CEO’s speech in public. Companies should give as much importance to social media as they would give to their traditional communications wing.