Weathering a social media storm

October 09, 2019 by Leela Bozonelis

Ensuring a consistent brand message is a key challenge for communications and marketing. It is especially difficult when engaging with social media users and reactive crisis communications and negative news mentions.   

The 2016 Communications Directors Survey asked 128 decision-makers from a range of sectors including: financial; technology; energy; transport and consumer about the challenges facing the industry. Almost half of respondents thought their organisation's brand narrative could be improved.  The results highlighted the difficulties of the modern communications landscape: communicating directly with the public and reactive communications.

The multi-channel challenge

Giles Fraser, co-founder of one of the organisations behind the survey commented: "Not only are communications professionals delivering on brand awareness but also direct customer engagement."  Conveying a consistent brand message in marketing collateral and outbound communications is straightforward, but in the "multi-channel" age of a 24/7 news cycle and social media, the challenge for organisations to deliver a consistent brand message whenever and wherever the organisation communicates to the public is increasingly challenging.

More than half of those surveyed stated protecting the company from crises was their top priority.  A crisis can arise from any number of locations, particularly social media, and organisations are still struggling to meet this challenge.  When asked 'Overall, how effective has your organisation been at meeting the challenge of social media?' just 17 per cent of survey respondents thought they had been effective.

The social media storm – modern crisis communications

Although they come in many forms, social media crises generally fall within one of two categories: a crisis created for the organisation and a crisis created by the organisation.  Both must be managed, are often unforeseen by the organisation and require the communications team to deliver a consistent brand message throughout the process.

Social media 'storms' are often the result of either ignorance – when an organisation publishes a post with good intentions, only to realise afterwards it had made a glaring error – or when a communications team is trying to create something entertaining.

Recently Coca-Cola published a tweet featuring a cartoon of a snow-covered Russia. While the post may have seemed innocent to the communications team, the map used was outdated, omitting Kaliningrad, and a social media storm ensued.  The reaction even generated the hashtag #BanCocaCola.

Too much authenticity can go a long way

More often a social media backlash stems from an organisation's own post where the communications team has tried to be funny, or 'edgy'.  This approach can be extremely successful, often generating thousands of views and shares, but it is high risk versus high reward.  UK supermarket Tesco is renowned for its approach to social media engagement – with some commentators calling it 'refreshing' and others 'disgusting'.

In 2013 the supermarket was forced to apologise after a tweet, seemingly joking, about the horse meat scandal went viral.  Some Twitter users joked about the post while others condemned it.  In the same year the supermarket replied to one shopper's comment that they were tired from walking around one if its stores with "Do you even lift bro…".  The tweet prompted complaints of gender discrimination from Twitter users eager to criticise the brand's social media tactics.

Despite the negativity Tesco's social media posts and comments are some of the most liked, retweeted and shared of any brand.  Engaging on social media while maintaining a consistent brand message is challenging for any organisation.  While there are many approaches, there is no single formula for success. Organisations that maintain transparency, authenticity and honesty while proactively engaging with their audience will be best placed to meet the challenges of the increasingly complex communications landscape.

Related blogs

ps 3 ways you can apply this information right now to…

  1. Monitor industry conversations to keep track of what the press and internet are saying. Our innovative technology and premium content – including traditional and new media – will help you transform information into actionable intelligence. Find out more.
  2. Follow this blog series; subscribe to our blog to have the updates delivered to your inbox.
  3. Leave a comment below. Let's start a conversation!