Real outrage or bot-rage: Managing the fall-out of social media backlash

Last week, netizens in some quarters of social media called for boycotts against Zomato and ITC’s snack brand Bingo. A few weeks ago, Tata-owned jewellery brand Tanishq faced a hashtag-boycott after it released a commercial showing an interfaith family gathering.

The reasons for these boycotts have nothing to do with the actual products or services.

In Zomato’s case, it was the company’s reply to a tweet by actor and activist Swara Bhasker asking if the company plans to “#DefundTheHate” and “pull your ads from hate espousing channels”. She added, “I’m not okay with my money even indirectly funding this kind of communal bigoted hate! Pls let your consumers know.” Zomato: “Hi Swara, please note, we don’t endorse any content except our own. That being said, we are looking into this.” The outrage machine cried foul, they demanded Zomato make its stance clear, and threatened to uninstall the app en masse.

Meanwhile, Bingo came under fire for a recent commercial featuring actor Ranveer Singh. Fans of Sushant Singh Rajput claim the ad makes a mockery of the actor who passed away earlier this year. The company responded with a statement clarifying that the ad was filmed in 2019, almost a year before Rajput’s death, and the release was delayed due to the pandemic.

In all these cases, the charges made marketers’ heads spin. Instances of brand boycotts have been on the rise for a while, but such online outrage is, in most cases, outrageous. A fact marketers know too well but can’t do much about except roll over and apologize or share their side of the story and wait patiently till the noise subsides.

The big concern is always the impact of online outrage on people, brands and business in the real world. In the confines of the social media universe, the damage might seem disproportionately dire. Two years ago, Nike and P&>-owned Gillette faced a backlash and a boycott over their commercials. People burnt their old sneakers and flushed their razors down toilets after Gillette’s attempt to redefine traditional masculinity failed to impress men. In a previous interview with Brand Equity, P&>’s global brand officer Marc Pritchard said that first of all, “You have to discern between actual consumer sentiment and the overheated social media rhetoric that gets disproportionately amplified.”

In most cases, the real-world impact of online outrage is “minimal”, says Kapil Arora, CEO and co-chairman of The Ogilvy Group agency 82.5 Communications. Today, what’s increasingly becoming a matter of greater concern is the after-effects of these episodes, says Arora: “The mental impact and pressure on the people running the brand is immense, which may, in turn, have a residual impact on business eventually.”

No marketer likes to be the “subject of adverse boardroom conversations,” says Arora. “These episodes are doing just that — they may not be impacting business as much just as yet, but they are certainly taking up a disproportionate amount of time and energy to contain and in turn, also curtailing their risk appetite for the new,” he adds.

According to agency executives, staying quiet is not an option. In today’s social media world, misinformation, misinterpretation of content, and sentimentalism spread faster than logical and analysed brand actions. That’s why “having a measured response to minimise its spread or clarifying the brand’s side of the story is extremely important,” says Arora.

Ahmed Aftab Naqvi, CEO and co-founder, Gozoop, says most brands have done “a poor job in responding adequately and managing these outrages.” He adds, “This has added fuel to fire and encouraged more such outrage. It has also let down the brands’ ardent supporters since the brand they resonated with did not show much of a spine. If the brands had managed it better, it could have tilted sentiments in its favour.”

Naqvi also believes there are opportunities to leverage in these kinds of brand crises; “if handled expertly, they can tilt the tide in the brand’s favour and generate enormous lasting goodwill – both online and offline.”

The need of the hour for companies is to have a robust crisis management mechanism in place. A response system that, as per Arora, recognises the “vagaries of a social mob, the transience of heightened emotions and the importance of a circle of ‘brand-friends’ who can help defend the brand’s point of view.”

Real outrage or bot-rage: Managing the fall-out of social media backlash Real outrage or bot-rage: Managing the fall-out of social media backlash Reviewed by TechCO on 11/28/2020 Rating: 5

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