Social Media is Dangerous for Brands

Social media is often touted as a marketing savior, a tool that allows brands to connect with consumers quickly and personally. We see social media bringing new companies and individuals to the forefront of social discussion and winning over loyal consumers in key moments à la Oreo’s “dunk in the dark” tweet during the 2014 Superbowl blackout. Often unacknowledged, however, is how social media can be the source of the unfortunate hijacking or complete demise of a brand.

With 2.3 billion social media users around the globe, there is undeniable pressure to have a strong social presence and a quick response to every trend and opportunity. Yes, these users are invaluable to brands, but they also represent 2.3 billion risks for a brand’s identity to be hijacked by confused consumers or more strategic competitors.

Marketers demand more than just great content, they need to access and share it with speed

In recent market research, 50% of marketers identified that their biggest challenge during holiday peak season is creating content that is better and faster executed than their competitors. Social media is often turned to as a fast solution, far too often resulting in little to no time or thought being spent on matching social strategy with existing brand guidelines.

Take, for example, Vera Bradley. This fall, the woman’s retailer launched a campaign centered around the hashtag #itsgoodtobeagirl. It was meant to be a series of inspirational videos and quotes designed to represent what was valuable about women. While a strong idea in theory, the campaign backfired as supporting images shared across Twitter and Instagram were deemed as shallow and sexist depictions of women. The brand invested heavily in a strong concept for a campaign, but when it came down to the social media content and strategy, the brand fell flat.

Social media can help a campaign go viral; it can also kill a campaign and taint a brand

The images in this campaign caused social media users, whether previous Vera Bradley shoppers or not, to make quick but wrongful judgements about what the brand stood for. They failed to see the real message behind the campaign and lost sight of the values that existed within the company, essentially causing the brand to be hijacked and misrepresented by a campaign that failed to match its existing brand identity. Vera Bradley was forced to overhaul the campaign with revised images that better matched their brand guidelines by attesting to the value of women beyond their fashion choices. While they did save the campaign, there is no telling if the brand made up for the negative and altered reputations that many consumers walked away with.

Marketers must be aware of the tremendous risks that social media can present. Negative or faulty campaigns take a lot of resources to resolve and misconstrued brand identities may never be able to be repaired. Brand marketers have to be cognizant that social media users do not view content holistically and instead make decisions about the brand based on individual pieces of content. The average user has neither the time nor the inclination to consider where a brand is coming from behind its campaign, their consumption of digital content is only skin deep. For as long as that is the case, marketers should view social media not just in terms of its opportunities, but also through the lens of its potential threats.

Chris Hall is CEO of Bynder

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