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Brand Building Best Practices | Social Media: Unanticipated consequences on social media threaten brands

Planning, data, analytics help

assure a positive experience


Karthik Nagarajan

Head, Content Practice




It was a fine Wednesday afternoon and the weather was pleasant in most parts of the country. A drizzle somewhere, a cloudy sky elsewhere, and a mild breeze in most places. It was also a slow news day. No surprising deaths, no political breaking news or cricket defeats. A cup of coffee would have been apt, wherever you were and whatever you were up to. As if to add to the positive mood, a major telecom brand decided to post an anecdote from a popular stand-up comedian on its Facebook stream. The anecdote was about making the most of every moment, which fit well with the telecom’s theme for the month.


It took only a few seconds before the brand’s Facebook page become filled negative comments. “Rotten network,” claimed one person. Another person piled on with, “It’s been 10 days and you have not resolved my query.” The person asked if the brand had any shame left. The audience, which usually loves a good fight, added comments supporting the outraged customer. Predictably, the brand soon posted a courteous, standard response promising swift action.


A few days later, India was booted out of the finals of a major cricket tournament. The entire nation seemed to be polarized into either a state of sadness or anger, nothing in between. However, this did not stop a battery company from launching a digital video whose protagonist, and brand ambassador, was a leading cricket player. The campaign was promoted on Twitter. And to make matters worse, the hashtag of the campaign was convenient enough to spawn extraordinary creativity among a multitude of “memers.” Sadly, for the brand, this content ended up being more fun than the genuine brand conversations that the video was generating. Add to this a couple of activists, who were quoting the hashtag to bring into limelight the government inaction on the rapidly drying water reservoirs in their city.


Not quite the “brand experiences” that were intended, I am sure. These two completely unrelated incidents, on two different platforms, reinforce the point that brands are never completely safe on social media. Why is that?


First, our world is deeply divided on politics, religion, and economic trends. Social media is obviously not insulated. If anything, it is at the forefront of this divide. For a mob that is looking for an excuse to express outrage, branded content unintentionally becomes easy fodder.


Second, brands are not safe from themselves either. Some sectors more than others have very frequent touch points with customers, and this means that they probably have more dissatisfied customers than others as well. And nothing gives more satisfaction to a dissatisfied customer than an opportunity to watch the brand bleed. The more unfair and unrelated it is, the better!


So how should a brand react? Can one avoid the medium entirely? No. Can one satisfy everyone equally and avoid conflict? Hell No. Can one prepare adequately and give the content the best chance of succeeding? Absolutely!


1.          Understand your digital audience better

Your social media audience is not a monolith. It is not homogeneous. Thankfully, most brands have a reach that is contained within a particular group, and hence is finite. It is important, however, to know what kind of profiles populate this group and what social media associations are likely to resonate with them.


2.          Content is not the end, but the beginning of a journey

The piece of content that a brand creates is a conversation starter. It is merely a gate pass to a party. Like all great conversations in life, it takes more than one person and it happens only when you are interesting. “Give me a number and I will call you back,” is not interesting, especially when you are going to say that to everyone at the party. Great brands on social media have always been able to extend the creativity and tonality in their content to the conversations as well. This outcome requires having a brand team that is spontaneous, and having the right influencers on the platform.


3.          Do not create content in isolation

In the example above, could the battery brand have handled things better? Probably. Today, given the extent of content trendspotting and natural language processing (NLP) analytics available at a brand’s disposal, it is possible to gauge the mood of a medium and make educated content decisions—in terms of form, talent, genre, and even timing. Fluid content is no more an academic term, but a reality. A necessity even.


For decades, brands and agencies decided what content needed to be created, and where and when it should be housed. In many ways, what we are seeing today is this authoritarianism giving way to a democracy where brands are creating content as a response to, and in collaboration with, the audience. The technology, the command centers, and the analytics to make this possible exist. Brands need only to bring their will to the party.