Four ways to avoid damage from bad fans
Presented above were three examples and three different situations. In the Lowe's example, intolerant people thought they were helping the brand. With Burberry, the challenge was juggling the different perspectives and values of two sets of consumers. In the third, it was about followers who probably aren't customers, and in all likelihood, had little reach or impact into the customer base.
Whether we like it or not, our brands are being discussed across digital -- "command and control" branding has been replaced by shared brand stewardship in which our customers have a vivid effect on brand perceptions. But the notion of total acquiescence to "consumer control" is moronic. We have the power and responsibility to mitigate damage and find opportunity. We are abdicating our duty as brand stewards if we don't try to amplify positive voices and limit the damage from negative ones.
We can certainly do things to limit the likelihood of suffering damage from bad fans and followers. Here are four ways:
Do a reality check
Whatever brand you represent, you will inevitably find that some of your followers say and do things you wish they wouldn't. Recognizing the difference between suboptimal communication and genuine problems is a critical skill. Also, consider the scale of the threat. For example, my guess is that the decision to pull ads from "All American Muslim" was an overreaction to what was actually a very small number of potential boycotters. There is absolutely no way to absolutely please everyone.
Think about how your actions and programs might be interpreted
Be prepared for predictable blow-back. Is it surprising that "McHaters" wrote critical messages about the golden arches? I think not. By anticipating possible backlash or negative consequences, you can craft better programs and know how to react when problems develop.
Consider whether you can turn bad fans into business opportunity
To be sure, where there's smoke, fire may develop. But also consider the opportunity that the new followers represent. Are there ways to turn a potentially bad situation into a good one? For Burberry, the solution appears to be maintaining elite brand symbols but democratizing the touch-points.
Grow thick skin
It would be nice if we could control every aspect of our brands and the ways people perceive them, but we can't. Trying to actually weakens our influence. If your brand is going to be active in social -- and it is whether or not you have a social program -- you need to be prepared to take a few hits along the way. The thin-skinned who overreact to these hiccups inevitably exacerbate the problems. Because, most of the time, the damage is small and transitory. I have no doubt, for example, that the "McProblems" outlined above made for a few crappy days in the social department. But just a few months later, the situation is forgotten in all but a couple of small trade articles. Hardly a mortal hit, and by taking that punch, the brand learned more about what to do in the future.
In a world of new ways to connect with consumers, there will be triumphs and missteps along the way. What is most important is that we do our best and get better through our experiences.
Jim Nichols is a marketing and strategy contractor in San Francisco.
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