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To bite or not to bite; the art of informed social

I wrote a letter to Rowntree after finding no purple sweets in my Fruit Pastilles packet and a few weeks later a brown envelope popped through the letterbox with an apology and a cheque for £4. I was so happy that the company had taken the time to reply and compensate me for a duff packet, but the process took weeks. Fast forward 20 years and the way in which my complaints, although very few and far between, are handled is completely different.

Enter social media. A couple of weeks ago I complained about a pizza delivery with no cheese topping (yes, really) and within minutes I had a reply from the supplier, which calmed me down slightly. Some brands do a great job at managing customer service queries on social media, while others are not so great. There is no denying that social media has well and truly changed the way in which brands need to react to situations. Complaints used to be private; these days it could be seen by anyone with internet access, anywhere in the world! So when you think of it like that, you realise just how important it is to have a good social media team in place. And it’s not only issues relating to customer service that are important. Social Media can also provide opportunities for real-time marketing and provide a channel for brands to voice their opinions on anything and everything. But it isn’t always right for a brand to comment; there is a time and a place. Some brands do it well but, unfortunately, some have learnt the hard way.

Take the recent World Cup as an example. As an official sponsor of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, Adidas would have been hoping in the build up to the tournament that Louis Suarez, one of the players the brand sponsors, would be making the headlines – for entirely different reasons than actually played out. Little did Adidas know that Suarez would get into hot water after biting an Italian player during the Uruguay vs Italy game and that the brand would be tasked with making an important decision: comment, or not to comment? And, if to comment, what to say? In order to make an informed decision, Adidas needed to listen to the social conversation and ask itself how its decision could best align the brand with its target audiences.

Following the incident, Gorkana Surveys gauged the perceptions of brands associated with Suarez and revealed that 40% of consumers would be less likely to buy products/services from brands that continue to sponsor the player. Additionally, data gathered using Gorkana’s social media monitoring and analysis tool, highlights that between the start of the World Cup, on Thursday 12th June, and Friday 27th June, likes on Adidas’ Facebook page actually peaked on Thursday 26th June. Given the bite happened on 24th June, this suggests the incident and the brand’s decision to avoid comment caused no lasting or damaging impact.

For an incident such as this, it pays to glean insight into audience perception. Whether a brand should react or not depends on the situation, and the following may be established as an appropriate course of action for brands, when establishing the best course of action:

Don’t react – your audience doesn’t care enough to warrant a response, or the subject is too sensitive to risk commenting.

React, but don’t follow the lead – has anyone ever said to you ‘If so and so jumped off a cliff, would you?’ The same applies here. Do something different that doesn’t just follow the same path as everyone else.

React, with purpose – listen to your fans and wider audience. If they think that Suarez should be dropped by his sponsors, why not be brave and lead the way, standing up for professionalism in sport?

Whatever way you look at it, it is a challenge for brands in this ‘always on’ social era to make the best decision in order to maintain their reputations. Who knows whether Adidas made the right decision in avoiding being drawn into an open debate and not reacting with purpose? Only those on the inside know the reasons behind the decision. However, it was during the aftermath of the incident - that will most likely be used as an example in marketing text books for years to come – that I was drawn to the brands that reacted with purpose and took a different stance, rather than following the crowd.