How Social Media Gives The Public The Power Over Your Brand

Now more than ever, the public have their own media channels through Blogs, websites, social media sites. Market Research firm, IDC, reports that North American online users spend about 32.7 hours a week on the Internet, almost twice as much time as spent watching television (16.4 hours) and more than eight times as much time as spent reading newspapers and magazines (3.9 hours).

People have the ability to produce their own content, share their opinions and experiences and can access a reach far larger than traditional media if their content gains a viral following. For this reason, the public can now have a distinct and powerful advantage in a crisis over many corporations.

Taco Bell experienced this power when some people walked past a US franchise late one evening, video recorded and uploaded to a pack of rats playing in the store which was shut-up for the night. The evidence is was for everyone to see – immediately, and created a viral crisis for Taco Bell over-night with over 1 million views.

A brand crisis is any event that threatens its integrity of reputation or image, due to the high volume and visibility of accompanying negative media attention reaching significant numbers of people. A brand can be at risk whenever one or more of the following situations occur:

• Scandal—your brand is implicated in a disgraceful or disreputable action or circumstance.
• Tragedy—a dreadful or fatal event occurs as a result of your product/service, or through negligence or mishap from a company or a representative.
• Danger—potential liability or exposure to harm or injury; risk; peril to customers, the larger community or public in general or company employees.
• Disaster—an event occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage, or hardship, such as an airplane crash, or massive business failure.
• Conflict—controversy between the corporation and a third party, such as employees, customers, stakeholders or government.

These situations may be enough to create a crisis for a brand by themselves. However, if additional news values are also present, they can add fuel to the fire by making it more intriguing. The following news values also help to create news headlines or online viral sensations:

• Celebrity—when someone with a celebrity status is involved somehow with the crisis.
• Novelty—something new or different from anything seen or known before.
• Oddity—a situation that includes the unexpected – a bizarre, peculiar or eccentric element.
• Milestone—happens during a significant event or stage, progress, development of a person, community or nation.
• Anniversary—coincides with the recurrence of a date of a significant past event
• Superlative—something has some feature to a greater degree than anything it is being compared to in a given context.
• Change—creates a significant difference before and after the event.
• Sex—includes sexual activities.

The recent Tiger Wood’s media circus was a good example of many news values coming together to make intriguing, juicy brand crisis – scandal, sex, conflict, celebrity, oddity and more. The pure newsworthiness of the story, coupled with the way it was poorly handled by Tiger Wood’s brand, led to loss in major sponsorship – including A&T and Accenture, costing him millions of dollars and loss of credibility which he is now working hard to gain back.

When the output of news was controlled by traditional media stations, brands could horse-trade and negotiate which stories were released and how much information was given. With Social Media, the people are clearly in the driving seat of what they think is newsworthy.

Crisis situations can no longer need to be seen as something that must be contained and dealt with but must be seen as an opportunity to participant in a valid conversation of your brand and engage the public authentically on issues that matter to them. This behaviour may seem counter-intuitive to those well-versed in traditional Crisis Management, but in fact have the ability to create stronger consumer relationships and grow market share.

Jaime Almond