In the Introduction chapter to the book, Brands and Branding, Rita Clifton (editor) recounts a story involving investor Warren Buffett as he tells a group of German investors that brand is the most important factor in deciding where to invest. According to Ms. Clifton, “even in hard times, brand is the key to protection and growth.”
If it is true that brand is of paramount importance – and I believe, like Mr. Buffett, that it is, then organizations need to do everything within their power to protect the brand they have created. Brands in the general sense include logos, slogans, colors, sounds, shapes and other physical or visual characteristics. However, when dealing with social media, brands are mostly identified through their brand name – though the other aspects, as will be described below, may play a role as well.
Regardless of an organization’s decision to become active in social media, some firms – particularly those with strong brands - will be subjected to some form of social media risk. The most common risk comes from internal sources – employees. Whether or not an organization implements a social media strategy and related policy, there still exists the risk that might be created by employees through their personal social media activities. Other risks originate externally. In both cases, the fact that the organization does not maintain a social media strategy is irrelevant. The social media risks still exist and as such, the need for a social media policy that addresses these risks is required.
An example of an externally-generated social media crisis occurred to the brand of the hit television show Mad Men. tells in a Digital Tip blog posting (Brand Hijacking, Brand Advocacy and Social Media Identities) the story of how fans of the show hijacked the Mad Men brand through the creation of Twitter accounts in the names of the Mad Men characters. The Twitter accounts generated a tremendous following. The problem was that fans of the show assumed that the Twitter accounts in the names of the show’s fictional characters where created and maintained by someone associated with the production of the show. The fact was that this part of the Mad Men brand was being controlled by a third party unassociated with the show. While in this case the brand was hijacked by friendly fans seeking to expand the fictional characters into reality, the fans could have been criminals or others seeking to take advantage of or damage the brand.
Another example of social media activities that can harm the brand is plain old-fashioned disgruntled customers. If you Google “Microsoft sucks” you’ll get tons of responses. If you Google “Apple sucks” you’ll get the same. If you Google “Google sucks,” ditto. And on and on. As such, it is clear that no matter what a company does to keep its customers happy, sucks happens!
A third example is the internally-generated social media crisis in which two employees of a North Carolina Domino’s store recorded a video and posted it on YouTube. The video turned viral and was viewed over one million times before it was taken down. The result was a hit to Domino’s national brand as well as the brand of the North Carolina store.
These examples illustrate how social media risks can manifest without the knowledge or involvement of the organization and regardless of an organization’s social media strategy. Whether or not Domino’s or the producers of Mad Men had implemented a social media strategy, these outcomes would have still resulted due to the fact that they were driven by independent forces – rogue employees and frenzied fans. In the case of Domino’s, the video came to the attention of management rather quickly as the video went viral. According to reports, the Mad Men crisis appears to have been a different situation in the sense that those involved with the show did not become immediately aware of the brand hijacking.
In each case, the best way to identify, deter and defeat rogue employees, dangerous brand hijacking attempts or disgruntled customers is to monitor what is being said on social media. While monitoring is a “detection” technique – as opposed to a prevention technique – it can be quite effective at identifying issues before they turn into crises.
According to Taariq Lewis and the Terametric Blog, there are over 145 social media brand monitoring and brand reporting tools on the market (“2 Reasons Why 145+ Social Media Brand Monitoring and Brand Reporting Tools Are Still Not Enough”). Some of these tools are free and quite effective, others are not. Based upon the complexity of each brand and the organization’s social media strategy, it is entirely possible to monitor the brand with free tools such as Google Alerts (google.com/alerts), Twitter Feeds (search.twitter.com) and SocialMention (socialmention.com). In other cases, however, a more robust solution may be preferred.
Since brand monitoring solutions are constantly evolving, it is always a good idea to search the Internet for information on “brand monitoring” and “social media.” This will provide access to the latest and greatest brand monitoring tools – both free and premium-based. Based on the large number of effective and affordable brand monitoring tools, there is no excuse for not monitoring an organization’s brand. Use of these tools provides organizations with an early warning system that will assist organizations in preventing small issues from escalating to brand-damaging events.