Why Social Media Keeps Brands Accountable (and 5 Key Lessons for Marketers)
We’re in a new age of consumer-brand relationships; consumers are more skeptical of brands than ever before, associating them with corporate greed and impersonal bureaucracy, and they’re more demanding of brands to step up their corporate social responsibility.
Some of this is a reaction to consumer-brand relationships of eras past, built on overabundant advertising and exaggerated messaging, but the bigger piece of the puzzle is the introduction of social media — both as a conduit for direct consumer-brand interactions and as a method for consumers to learn more about brands.
Social media has taken on the role of keeping brands accountable for their values and their actions, and accordingly, the most successful brands are the ones who understand this new level of accountability. In light of the recent social media missteps by United Airlines that gained national attention and criticism, it’s worth reviewing social media’s role in brand accountability — and five key lessons marketers need to learn.
Reviews, Complaints, and Concerns
First off, social media gives users a chance to say anything they want about a brand they’ve interacted with; that might mean posting a picture of a meal you thought was amazing and tagging the restaurant, or directly complaining to an airline for an extended delay.
For brands, this is an interesting opportunity to learn more about how consumers are interacting with you; you’ll have the ability to make up for some bad experiences, and collect feedback on new features and offerings. But for other consumers, this is a window into the average brand experience, and a view of how that brand values its consumers. For example, if they see users complaining about a brand that only ignores the complaints, it could form a terrible first impression and dissuade them from buying from that brand.
News and Information
Social media also serves as a channel for the fast, accurate release and circulation of news. If there’s a scandalous, high-level event, like an oil spill or an egregious act of poor customer service, users will undoubtedly capture, live-stream, and share the act in a form of social news.
This makes it nearly impossible to cover up an event as it’s unfolding, and hastens the availability of information in the hands of users. Within a few hours, a small event could become a problem in the eyes of millions of social media users.
Social media content is somewhat temporary, as fads come and go. But the mass availability of social media and herd-like mentality of users makes it nearly impossible to will any content out of existence. If your company tweets something inadvertently offensive, for example, simply deleting the tweet will likely do nothing — users would share and re-share the tweet, preserving it forever in the deep archives of the web.
This makes it more important than ever to self-regulate your commentary and observe what information is released to the public, and how.
Key Lessons for Marketers
So what can marketers and public relations experts learn from these facets of social media accountability?
1. Be transparent. First, be as transparent with your customers as possible. The effects of social media make it so that any information about your company will likely become public knowledge anyway; providing it yourself gives you more control over how that information is presented and distributed, and builds trust. If customers ask you questions, give them honest answers, and publish as much information as possible on your website to keep your target demographics up-to-date.
2. Be proactive. In addition to maintaining a degree of transparency, be proactive in releasing information to the public. For example, if your brand makes a mistake, it’s better to release the information as soon as possible, rather than sitting on your hands and delaying the inevitable; if the information goes viral in the hands of users, you’ll appear as if you’re hiding your actions, which will compromise trust in you. If you don’t have all the information, publish what you can, and indicate your degree of uncertainty.
3. Don’t lie. To the best of your ability, avoid stating or distributing any inaccurate information. Users have infinite information available to them, and will be able to disprove any lies that you attempt to circulate. After that, everything you state will be scrutinized. If you discover that your information is wrong, admit your mistakes and correct them as proactively as possible.
4. Don’t cover things up. If you tweet something inappropriate or inaccurate, the worst thing you can do is try to pretend like it never happened. Instead, remove the content and acknowledge that you’ve removed it; trying to cover it up will only make your users want to share it more, to preserve it indefinitely and prevent it from being silenced. Similarly, if there’s a scandal or public relations incident, don’t run away from it; greet it head-on.
5. Accept responsibility. Similarly, you’ll want to accept responsibility for all your actions; a simple acknowledgment can almost immediately defuse a tense situation. Admit that you’ve made a mistake, proactively apologize for the incident, remain sincere, and explain to your users how you’re going to try to make things right.
The social media age functions as a bit of a minefield for corporate brands, forcing you to consider your actions carefully and avoid unnecessary scandals. However, it also represents a straightforward opportunity to get a leg up on competing brands; by simply being more transparent, more proactive, and more considerate of your users, you’ll build and maintain a better brand reputation.
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