Should brands be opin­ion­ated on so­cial me­dia?

Business Today - - THE BUZZ - By De­vika Singh Il­lus­tra­tion by Safia Zahid @ de­vikas­ingh29

EACH BRAND has a dif­fer­ent so­cial me­dia pol­icy. But most have a sin­gle-line brief for their mar­ket­ing teams and dig­i­tal agen­cies -- “Don't touch any­thing po­lit­i­cal or reli­gious.” While this strat­egy helped brands avoid con­tro­ver­sies in ini­tial days of so­cial me­dia, it might not be fool­proof any­more. Tele­com ma­jor Air­tel had to face a back­lash last month when it did not take a stand about a reli­gious con­tro­versy in­volv­ing its cus­tomer care on Twit­ter. Cab ag­gre­ga­tor Ola, too, faced a sim­i­lar si­t­u­a­tion, but fared bet­ter as it took a stand. What should be the ideal strat­egy when a brand lands in a po­lit­i­cal or reli­gious con­tro­versy on so­cial me­dia? Should it sweep it un­der the car­pet or voice out its stand? The ex­perts are di­vided.

Ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try vet­eran K.V. Srid­har says brands need to be more re­spon­sive and have a point of view. “If you don't have a point of view, then peo­ple will not lis­ten to you or fol­low you. Brands that have no point of view have no fu­ture,” he adds. He cites ex­am­ples of global fash­ion brand United Colours of Benet­ton, Ti­tan Com­pany’s Fas­track and Tata Tea to illustrate the ef­fec­tive­ness of cam­paigns with a pos­i­tive so­cial mes­sage.

A study con­ducted by Sprout So­cial, a provider of so­cial me­dia man­age­ment, ad­vo­cacy and an­a­lyt­ics so­lu­tions for busi­nesses, found that con­sumers look up to brands that take a stand. Ac­cord­ing to the find­ings of the sur­vey, two-third con­sumers (66 per cent) say it’s im­por­tant for brands to take pub­lic stand on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues; and more than half (58 per cent) were open to this hap­pen­ing on so­cial me­dia. The sur­vey, con­ducted among 1,000 peo­ple in the US, made an­other in­ter­est­ing rev­e­la­tion. While 78 per cent re­spon­dents who iden­ti­fied them­selves as lib­eral wanted brands to take a stand, only about half (52 per cent) of those who iden­ti­fied them­selves as con­ser­va­tive felt the same. Sim­i­larly, 82 per cent lib­er­als felt that brands are cred­i­ble when they take a stand, while only 46 per cent con­ser­va­tives had the same view.

How­ever, some don’t favour ditch­ing the golden rules that have broadly worked so far. “A brand has a tar­get au­di­ence and its con­sumers be­long to ev­ery party and group. So, the mo­ment you go and say some­thing, whether it is po­lit­i­cal or reli­gious, you have a prob­lem with your con­sumers,” says Prathap Suthan, Chief Cre­ative Of­fi­cer at Bang in the Mid­dle, a new-age com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany.

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