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Can Social Media Be Bad for Brands?

As someone who is interested in the intersection between branding and social media, I am also an advocate of social media as a marketing tool. There is a whole world of cutting edge techniques out there that can help brands connect with their consumers. Interacting with the consumer, updating them on news, offers, promotions, generating buzz – these are all things brands want to do. Right?

But when, if ever, is it not necessary or not appropriate to utilize social media as a brand building technique? Is it ever unnecessary? Can it actually even be damaging?

In some instances, it may not make sense for certain companies and/or brands to use social media. It may be superfluous if it’s not the most effective way to reach their target market. I’m thinking of very small businesses with walk-in clientele in high foot traffic areas. Out of the company’s marketing budget, the most cost-effective way to drive business and generate buzz may be to hand out fliers, distribute price menus or advertise special promotions/offers/coupons on paper. While it is always important to have a website for prospective customers to find out more about your brand, if taking the time to generate buzz via social media is simply not the most effective way to reach your consumers, and the time it takes to craft this kind of marketing campaign may be an unnecessary expense.

But when can social media actually be damaging to a brand?

If the campaign is not thought through and executed by the brand’s marketing team, the results can be negative, and even generate unfavorable buzz for the brand. Bombarding the consumer with constant annoying reminders with too much information, propagating annoying and pointless updates, and over-sharing (the dreaded “TMI”) can create a negative brand perception. Brands should craft their message to reflect their core values, and always speak in their own carefully constructed tone of voice. Updates should always consist of relevant, useful, surprising or exciting information, and over-sharing should be avoided, lest the brand’s target customer get irritated and unsubscribe from the newsfeed… or even worse, start generating bad buzz for the brand.

That leads us to a possible negative consequence of branding and social media. If a brand’s product, service, etc. is not up to consumer’s standards, the consumer is going to be disappointed. Sometimes they may even be angry. And bad buzz can spread just as quickly as good buzz. Think of the Jetblue debacle in 2007. After a storm caused cancellations and delays of hundreds of flights,  rather than put their passengers in hotels for the night, Jetblue kept them on runways, for over 10 hours in some cases. While consumers weren’t surprised that an airline would do this sort of thing, they were surprised that the airline in question was Jetblue, a brand built primarily on customer service. So Jetblue had a major PR crisis on their hands, and they needed to act quickly to undo the major damage done to their brand image. They to sincerely apologized to consumers and promptly revamped their Consumer Bill of Rights. And now, they closely monitoring social networking sites for anything that’s being said about their brand.

Jetblue, whose Twitter account has over a million followers, also has a small team of marketers who manage the brand’s presence on Twitter. This October a woman tweeted from Seattle’s airport that Jetblue’s birthday present to her was that they forgot to bring her a wheelchair. Within minutes, Jetblue tweeted their apology, and notified the flight’s crew to quickly right the situation.

Snapshot 2009-10-24 18-54-51

Social media is a forum for brand buzz in general, and companies need to closely monitor these networks to keep an eye on what’s being said about their brand. Brands need make sure their own messaging and campaigns are relevant, exciting, and actually newsworthy. Companies also need to keep a close eye on what consumers are saying about their brand. By being aware of the message, the brand can head off negative brand buzz, or even listen to what consumers are saying and make necessary changes to their product or service.

So we see that while sometimes social media may not be necessary for all types of businesses to build brand their brand, the buzz generated by social media needs to be closely monitored, lest a company’s service or offering generate negative perceptions in the marketplace.

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