Businesswise | Protecting your brand from social media ruin
In the midst of the frenzied Olympic fever gripping the nation, especially our great pride and joy in the performance of our athletes, an unexpected lesson in branding emerged for entrepreneurs, businesses and people generally.
The lesson is that social media is a colossal force of public influence that can, within the blink of an eye or touch of a keypad, ruin your brand and reputation, far easier than it can buttress it.
It is a scary proposition for anyone in business to realise that a reputation you work up to a lifetime to build so diligently and purposefully can unravel with one reckless act or mistake on social media. Worse yet, if this is an act or mistake which flies in the face of your values, especially since no company can claim to be infallible when it comes to such grave blunders.
Olympic hate bomb
Without calling names, the background to this issue is that moments after the historic Olympic gold-medal win of one of our athletes, we witnessed a study in how not to use social media for business.
An employee of a respected company tweeted a homophobic reference in describing the Olympian's groundbreaking win. It was just one word, which, taken at face value, would seem innocent, but for locals who know the negative connotation and stigma, it was like setting off a hate bomb against a brilliant patriot we hadn't even properly began celebrating.
It immediately ignited a firestorm on Twitter and other social media, with users strongly condemning the comment and chastising the company from whose Twitter account it emerged.
The fascinating and equally unfortunate thing is that despite the fact that the successful company is a household name and brand that is well respected for its contributions to industry and corporate social responsibility, and that the Twitter account was obviously newly created, and that many users appeared convinced that the tweet came from a junior employee or contractor acting on a frolic of his own, people began denigrating their reputation and products, with some even calling for a boycott.
When you think things could not get worse, the company issued an initial apology, which backfired and only served to fan the flames.
While it deleted the tweet, distanced itself from the comment, and celebrated the athlete who was the subject of the vitriol, it insisted its account was hacked and that it was investigating. Big mistake. Social media users who had already screenshot and continued to share the offending tweet, were not buying the hacking story and weren't convinced the company took the matter seriously or accepted responsibility.
And so the backlash continued until another apology was issued. This time, it appeared the company's senior management stepped in and took drastic action, announcing that the employee who made the tweet was fired, condemning the comment and its implications, apologising to the athlete and the public, and indicating it would be going further to make amends.
Since then, the company's founder and executive chairman has been all over the print and electronic media expressing outrage and sincere apologies and vowing to repair the damage done to the athlete and their corporate image. Many of us, myself included, feel his and the company's deep anguish.
The huge lesson from this is that social media, and the digital space, generally, is extremely powerful. It is the face, voice and representation of a company to the global public. Global.
Let that sink in a bit and consider the resounding implications.
In the same way that businesses should take extreme care in its physical aesthetics, the frontline staff who represent them in public and how they present their products and services - substantial care is required for social media.
I am the first to concede and offer the disclaimer that it is near impossible to expect to never make mistakes on social media. However, the measures below will go a far way in minimising the likelihood, incidents and severity of those errors.
First, the person who tweets, posts and shares is a leading representative of the company. He or she cannot be inexperienced, untrained, far removed from management, or an outsider who is hired on the basis of who can provide the cheapest social media services.
Managers of social media accounts should be trained and versed in communications, customer service and marketing. They must also be company tsars, fully understanding and subscribing to the core values of the company.
While it is important for companies to have social media policies and protocols, and crisis-management procedures in the event of a horrendous mistake, the ultimate proactive prescription is hiring the right people, proper orientation and continuous training, and exercising hands-on leadership and supervision at all times.
The value of a business' brand and reputations is too important to do otherwise.
-Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer, and creator/executive producer of The Innovators TV series.