Social Media and internet have given us a loud voice, as citizens and consumers. We can massively share opinions and experiences; we can organize movements and causes. But what’s our real impact?
Internet and social networks have given people a voice and have made countries much more democratic. Every day in Mexico – my country – media publish the perception, opinions, views and reactions of tweeters on politics, social and economic issues. Nowadays, it is common to see a header such as “Tweeters outraged by corruption scandal.” People’s opinion is now hardly ignored.
A few weeks ago, the television duopoly in Mexico refused to broadcast the national presidential debate. This caused anger, since the two main public television channels would transmit a football match and a reality show instead of the debate. Only 35% of Mexicans have internet and could see the debate online: what about the rest of the Mexicans with no computer, internet or pay television?
Salinas P. (CEO of one of the two networks, TV Azteca) started the controversy stating on his Twitter account that “If you want to see the debate, watch it on other channels; if not, watch the football game on my channel. I’ll send the ratings the day after.”
Of course, tweeters started complaining: a democratic event such as the debate should have greater reach and diffusion. The CEO then argued that tweeters were authoritarian, as they were trying to impose the debate.
After the controversy, the Twitter @AnonymousMexi called tweeters to #BoicotTVAzteca, an initiative supported by many social media users, in one of the most active countries in the world in terms of Twitter usage (ranked #7 in February 2012).
The initiative has rapidly been aggregated with other protest movement in the country; and afterwards, when a sports commentator was fired for asking the audience to see the presidential debate instead of the football match, it became even bigger on the trending topics.
Did TV Azteca follow a crisis strategy trying to clean its image? No. In my opinion, as part of a duopoly, people won’t stop watching its channels anyway.
It’s good to know that people could share their thoughts and feelings; but the general rejection against TV Azteca involved the middle and upper classes in Mexico (those with Internet access). And, despite the outrage, I’m sure Mr. Salinas P. will still be the second richest man in Mexico (after Carlos Slim, currently the world’s richest man according to Forbes).
This can somehow be compared to what happened to McDonalds a few months ago: they launched #McDStories as a promoted hashtag, inviting people to share their good memories at the fast food. But it immediately became a huge fail on Twitter, with thousands of detractors sharing disgusting stories, and – of course – a huge worldwide media coverage.
But did it really hurt the business? The answer is no. As well as haters are still going to hate the brand, millions of people are still going to get their food there, regardless of what was trending on Twitter for a few hours.
But sometimes, social media protests against a company can actually have a strong rebound on the market. Let’s look at what happened in Spain.
The government has recently nationalized Bankia, one of the largest banks in the country, with up to €10 billion of taxpayers’ money. Since Bankia runs 80% of the evictions in Madrid, the reaction has been huge. In fact, those who were not customers of the bank submitted written petitions demanding the return of public money.
This led to a strong digital reaction, especially on Twitter. But this time, #cierraBankia didn’t remain a digital reaction. Hundreds of people turned up at the branch near Puerta del Sol (in downtown Madrid) to close their accounts at Bankia and take out their money, causing long queues in most branches of the company.
Police vans were reportedly stationed outside the branch to control the protest. Many on Twitter were furious at the police intervention. Of course, more reactions emerged on other social sites, and on national and international news media as well.
I won’t judge if #cierraBankia is right or wrong, I just want to emphasize how social media can be a breakthrough for democracy. We can think of the Arab Spring, or remember the resistance against the Mexican drug war: people are using social networks to defend their rights and make their voices heard.
As soon as Internet became a place where to market products, people realized they could have a voice as consumers. A new digital and more transparent world made of social media, blogs, video sharing channels, consumer review sites and forums, has suddenly been able to teach companies what this can really mean. And Kryptonite was one of the first brands to learn it the hard way.
Back in 2004, one of the largest bike lockers makers suffered one of the most famous online brand crisis. All was caused by a few user-generated videos, showing how to pick a Kryptonite bike lock with a Bic pen in a few seconds. Even if it was still the pre-Youtube era, the videos went viral:
Hundreds of thousands of people saw them, and decided to post them on bike forums, causing a real reputation damage to the brand. Besides that, news of the product fault was published in the New York Times, causing the blogstorm to become even bigger.
It was not until 10 days after the original video was posted that Kryptonite announced the replacement of some 100.000 locks, at a cost of $10 million. Eight years later, Kryptonite is still struggling to recover from this fiasco: if you Google “Kryptonite Locks” now, the top results are still videos of people breaking into Kryptonite locks.
If Kryptonite had acknowledged there was a problem with its product and communicated that the company was working on solutions sooner, maybe they could have prevented the massive wave of negative comments.
In these cases, one of the main problems for individuals and companies is that unhelpful opinions and reviews are forever preserved on the internet. Online PR is fast becoming a core marketing skill.
Remember the United Breaks Guitars phenomenon? For those who don’t, here it is:
The video, created by singer Dave Carrol after the airline broke his guitar (and refused to admit it and give him a compensation), became massive in 2009, getting over 4 million views in a few weeks.
Due to the negative PR, the company reportedly recorder an over $100 million loss at the stock exchange: with all that money they could have bought him over 50 thousands new guitars!
That’s why many companies, organizations and individuals have to ask themselves: are we monitoring social media sites? Are we listening to the community/customers? Do we have a risk mitigation plan? Are we offering solutions to our detractors? Are we listening to their complains and suggestions? Are we starting a kind and professional dialog?
Because very often #socialmediafails are just a PR thing reported by marketing blogs; but sometimes they can cost millions of dollars. And last for decades.