Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brand Backlash :: Social Media Style



Here's a great compendium of social media disasters for organizations from 2001 to the present. Social media means that organizations are increasingly vulnerable to attacks on their reputations 24/7. The same author, Jeremiah Owyang, has a typology of brand backlash storms.

Social media allows for instantaneous communications on a topic and what resonates and goes viral is often unpredictable. These incidents highlight how organizations need to understand that their policies, stakeholder interactions, and the actions of third parties can make their brand vulnerable at the drop of a hat. 

Conventional PR wisdom is to refute/respond, not antagonize, and let the controversy die down. Social psychology's Elaboration Likelihood Model can offer greater insights. If the public is motivated to process the arguments being made and have the ability to process them, strong message arguments should be used {central route of persuasion}. If there is less motivation and ability to process information, credibility of the spokesperson, attractiveness of the spokesperson, and good execution are more important than crafting strong message arguments {peripheral route of persuasion}.

If an organization is attacked with strong, factual information that the audience is motivated to engage and also comprehends, this is particularly damaging, as attitudes formed under these conditions tend to be stronger.

Countering attacks can be informed by the elaboration likelihood model, although in practice it may be difficult to gauge the public's motivation and ability to process anti-brand information being spread on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. I would surmise that most of what goes viral is fueled by emotion and the peripheral route of persuasion. In responding to attacks, I think it's best to think about narrative and who the audiences are. What's the story that's unfolding? For example, brand are typically attacked on the grounds of::
  1. Unfairness
  2. Malfeasance
  3. Offensiveness
  4. Irresponsibility
  5. Dissatisfaction
How can the attack be turned around? I think it's helpful to think of how can you "fix" the story being told without seeming defensive and willing to offer mea culpas when you're wrong. In the past, brands have turned negatives into positives. Saturn turned a recall into a way to connect with their consumers and foster brand community. Hint, hint, Toyota. Service business have often turned fail points into ways to foster a better customer relationship by properly responding to customer complaints.

Social media allows for discussions and organizations should embrace discussions as a better way to connect with their constituents and stakeholders, even when under attack.

I am currently doing work developing metrics to better understand how brand backlash works and will post more on this in the future.

Twitterversion:: Brand backlash from social media can be terrifying, but how should orgs. respond? It's about narratives & conversations. @Prof_K

Song:: Sandie Shaw-"Jeane"

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