Big brands with newly-built social media teams are struggling to decide which trends matter and which don't. Alex Wilson reports.

Large companies today frequently come up against the anger of individuals on the internet, channelled through social media. Some have bowed under the seeming pressure.

All firms, particularly those with well-known brands, are now struggling to judge the true significance of social media campaigns.

“When does a social media trend become a problem?” is a question on many lips.

Recently, Gap made the decision to scrap the introduction of a new logo after it was panned by twitter users. However, the twitter account central to the outcry had only 5,000 followers, an estimated 0.003% of the company’s customer base of many millions.

But would Gap’s revenue and sales really have suffered if they had persevered and brought in the new logo? Possibly not, since the company was not making any other major changes to its products or services or undertaking any restructuring of store locations.

Nivea recently came under attack on social media when an advert for male grooming products in a magazine came under fire on Twitter and Facebook.

The company quickly responded by removing the advert from all further usage and took to its Facebook page to offer several apologies to its customers and those offended by the advert.

The food giant Nestlé has also come under fire in 2010 via social media in a campaign linked to Greenpeace highlighting the company’s use of Palm oil in its products, the planting of which is linked to rapid deforestation in places such as Indonesia.

Greenpeace encouraged its supporters to post on the company’s Facebook site and to change their Profile pictures to altered versions of the company’s product logos, such as KitKat.

The campaign had a major impact: Millions saw it and after Greenpeace invaded the company’s AGM they quickly cut a deal to work with the campaign.

It takes a matter of seconds to retweet something, to change your profile picture or post on a company’s Facebook wall; far less effort than it takes to write a letter of complaint.

Seb Hempstead from social media monitoring company BrandWatch points out that “understanding passion from online conversations outside of a maelstrom isn't easy and requires time and a willingness to really look at the detail of discussions”. 

So if companies take social media complaints at face value, at least initially, it is perhaps hardly surprising.

Companies do react strongly to what is said about them on social media; Jessica Kalbarczyk from Samsung says that the executive team of the company take “what people are saying on social media very seriously”.

It appears clear that some trends and campaigns are important enough to be carefully considered, but others can be left to die, best read as a few re-tweets of a frustrated customer or angry individual.

The trick for companies is to learn the difference. Measurement and real-time metrics, increasingly available, will help. But many more firms will no doubt get it wrong before companies understand how best to manage the volatile mediums of real time new media.


crisis communications  CSR and social media  csr communications  social media trends 

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