Last Saturday, when a massive 7.9 magnitude hit Nepal and some parts of India, there were few brands who encashed this opportunity to promote themselves heavily on social media. Within minutes, they were slammed and eventually had to issue a public apology.
Does it mean that brands can get away by acting irresponsibly in the social domain? Harish Bijoor, brand-expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults said, “No, in this age of social media, there isn’t any scope for brands to make these mistakes. Social media is quick and decisive in its judgement. Brands that make mistakes are chastised instantly and this chastisement leaves a scar on them.”
It was immediately after the earthquake that brands like Lenskart, American Swan, Troika Consulting and news website ScoopWhoop came out with insensitive posts at a time when the nation was grieving. Riding on the earthquake news, they came out with posts like ‘Shake it off like this Earthquake: Get any Vincent Chase sunglasses upto Rs 3,000 for FLAT Rs 500, by sending invites to 50 Friends’ (by Lenskart) or ‘Earthquake Shakes India 7.5 on Richter Scale. If you were busy updating your status as you evacuated the building, we might have a job for you in our social media team’ (by Troika Consulting). American Swan’s ad read, “Whooaaa! This is an Earth Shattering offer!” ScoopWhoop published an article titled, “16 thoughts that went through everyone’s mind when the earthquake happened”, trivialising the tragedy.
According to Bijoor, the line between being socially active and relevant is an intuitive one. “We are all human beings and we create advertising. Anything that looks even a wee bit insensitive must be avoided. Using stuttering as a device to sell a mobile phone is as insensitive as it comes.”
Echoing similar views, Zafar Rais, Founder & CEO, Mindshift Interactive commented that the social media space requires massive amount of intelligence and it should not be treated as a frivolous medium. “Social media does have the power to either make or break a brand. There is a lot of responsibility attached to this role. “Before you put up things online, there is a need for brain storming and adequate research. There has to be a certain level of maturity required and one has to be prepared with plan A, B & C, in case things go wrong. Brands actually need to put out social media guidelines and also gain insight on what social media has to offer to them.”
He further added that if brands make mistake, they should be gracious enough to acknowledge it and do it at the earliest, or else in social media, things blow out of proportion even before you realise it. However, the good thing is that, the attention span of people in the digital world is limited because there are so many things happening at the same time, but the sad part is, there are many brands who are trying to use negative publicity to their benefit.
Tripti Lochan, CEO VML said that in the online space, the longevity of the news is longer and people don’t tend to forget things easily. It is like, what happens online, stays online! “However, what agencies need to keep in mind is that there is nothing wrong in being topical, but they need to be sensitive and they can even add their own opinion to it. For example, there were many brands that used social media to spread news on how people can help the earthquake survivors by donating,” she cited.
Vikram Raichuria, MD of Viva Connect, a mobile media company explained that when brands send them voice calls and SMSes, they listen to it and also proof read before sending it to the subscribers. So if some controversial message like the one which Lenskart had sent to its customer base comes to them, they will reject it. “Proper checks and balances are done, because this is infact more personal than any social media. The content needs to be sterilized because the telco rights belong to us, and if there is any problem, then TRAI will take our rights away,” he said.
Speaking on where these brands are going wrong, Bijoor said, “Brands are getting carried away in their quest of the distinct creative device. Creativity has a space in adverting, but this creativity needs to marry sensitivity before being unleashed on the public at large.”
Shrenik Gandhi, Co-founder at White Rivers Digital pointed out that some brands at times take social media mistakes lightly. They feel it is perishable. “The fact remains, every communication on social media or the online mediums should be thoughtful and within the umbrella brand strategy. It won’t be there for long in the minds of the people because everyone has a short memory. Infact, at times, if done smartly, it may work in favour of the brand too. But if the brand slyly erases off the 'mistaken tweet', it may end up to be a never ending ghost to the brand's social media journey,” he mentioned.