The recent United and Pepsi social media firestorms are still captivating the media's undivided attention. It’s no surprise that the online perpetuation of these real-life events is the prime topic of conversation for marketers across all industries (not just airlines and soft drinks).
Both brand blunders have sparked a burning question that’s occupying my mindspace, and it doesn’t have to do with brand reputation.
“Does anyone even care?”
Brands have one purpose, selling products and services to the consumers of the world. So unless social backlash and media scrutiny are causing a serious decline in sales numbers, are there any actual consequences?
Flying the unfriendly social skies
Certainly, a PR crisis doesn't boost a brand's public reputation, but social fervor doesn’t necessarily equal brand bans. Admittedly, the chain reaction of United and Pepsi’s highly profiled missteps led to a barrage of memes and a massive influx of conversations on social media sites.
In fact, United Airlines was mentioned more than 2.9 million times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram between April 10 and 11, with 1.52 million of those mentions on April 10 alone.
Financial pundits recorded a drop in stock prices for the airline behemoth yet shortly after the incident and social spiral, Fortune and others were reporting that the brand’s stock completely bounced back from the minimal turbulence. When it comes to something like flying, consumers tend to select a brand based on price and convenience. It’s that simple.
Something to sip on
When Pepsi put out a controversial yet vague ad featuring Kendall Jenner in a peaceful, nondescript protest, social media took posting its outrage and opinions. Because that’s what social media does.
With highly reported alleged consumer backlash in the form of social media vitriol, the easy assumption was that consumers would view the brand negatively and that sales or shares could take a hit. Yet the Morning Consult poll found over half of survey respondents said the commercial made them have a more favorable view of the brand.
Also, Pepsi shares are up 7.1% for the year making it a very high performer, and the ad seemed to have had no effect on shares.
Is social still important for brands?
Of course, it is. Social media is the open forum, true equalizer that brands can and should be utilizing to speak directly to their customers and to learn everything they can about what consumers really want. If they listen they’ll find the public is sharing its likes, dislikes and desires in droves. There is a massive opportunity for brands who pay attention to social conversations to build better products, develop more relevant content, and be more attuned to the public’s needs.
When social media catches onto a brand mistake, do address it but with the knowledge that the sky isn’t falling and long-term effects may be minimal. Especially when it comes to sales and the bottom line.
There are numerous lessons to be learned from any brand that comes under public dissection for a high-profile event.
1. Do your research; test how ads and brand behaviors could be viewed by the public.
2. Listen to what your customers are saying, especially on social.
3. When you mess up apologize sooner rather than later. And mean it.
Social media is a pivotal part of daily life whether brands want to face that or not. It’s hugely important that they look to social media as an untapped resource that can be used to make better decisions and to handle crisis situations speedily and smartly.