I can’t remember a time in my PR career when a brand (B2B or B2C) wasn’t in some kind of trouble. From product recalls and e coli poisoning to airline flights cancellations and accounting scandals. Enron, WorldCom and Arthur Anderson resulted in Sarbanes Oxley and more financial transparency and stricter reporting procedures. I’m not sure if social media would have helped those companies. But, today is different. On any given day, a brand that is on top of the world (i.e., athletes and MLB) can fall from grace. Did anyone say Alex Rodriguez? There is a way to restore the trust.
Edelman just came out with a Trust Barometer and it’s not a pretty picture. According a PR Week article on February 2, 2009, “America’s trust in businesses has dropped to its lowest point in a decade ….” It appears that consumers would much rather hear important news and information from their trusted peers and are more apt to believe what their friends in a community say over what a brand may advertise on TV or in print.
With the socialization of media, consumers, more so than ever, will be looking to their brands for transparent communication. I believe that transparency, and, of course, honesty and integrity are the voices of the brands that gain consumer trust in the future. Ask yourself this question: will PR 2.0 and social media help a brand to repair and/or maintain its reputation or will the power of social communication kill the brand? Of course, keep in mind that the answer may depend on the nature of the brand, its current reputation in the community, and the severity of an offense.
I believe that social media will help to repair a damaged reputation if used correctly and will also aid in maintaining a necessary level of transparent communication with customers, media, analysts, bloggers and other important stakeholders. Here’s my short list of why PR 2.0 and social media can help:
- Social media communication gives a brand a voice, a face and emotion. If there’s an apology due, then seeing a CEO or spokesperson address a situation and offer a mea culpa is much more believable than a canned, written statement read from a podium. Of course we know that a PR team was behind the communication, but emotion still comes through the body language and facial expressions.
- Social media will get the right communication to the right people in a short period of time. Communities share information quickly and when crisis occurs, social media doesn’t waste any time. There are no more excuses for a brand that has “no comment.” We can use social media to evaluate the brand damage and then apply the appropriate, transparent communication to rectify any miscommunication or to state the facts.
- When you engage in social media communication your brand becomes a member of a community. If you have a good reputation and you are providing the community with important information (not marketing and promotion), often your blogger evangelists will come to your aid if your brand is challenged. These loyal enthusiasts will set the community straight and help to clear up any communication that is not accurate. The community takes care of its own.
- Social media monitoring allows you to tap into conversations that you were never able to monitor before. When you set up a key word system, whether it’s Google Alerts or through proprietary monitoring software, you are able to evaluate the conversations in the blogosphere. At this point you can make the decision to inject the right communication among certain groups or you can post content on your blog/website and offer appropriate information to the public.
I’m sure there are many other reasons why social media will help a brand with a damaged reputation that’s on the mend. Let me know your suggestions and/or if you have any good examples of how social media helped a brand rebuild its image.