Will social media platforms’ clean-up act make them more attractive to brands?

As social media giants educate and encourage a safer online environment, exchange4media speaks to experts to understand its impact on consumers and advertisers

by Shikha Paliwal
Published - Sep 10, 2019 8:27 AM Updated: Sep 11, 2019 2:49 PM
SocialMedia

Last month, TikTok unveiled an awareness campaign titled #WaitASecToReflect to encourage and educate users on the importance of uploading responsible content. Both Facebook and Instagram are experimenting with the removal of the ‘Like’ button in the backdrop of concerns over mental health issues in young people. Popular messaging app WhatsApp rolled out its ‘Share Joy, Not Rumours’ campaign last year to curb the menace of fake news on its platform. Twitter too has promised to rein in hateful online conduct. Clearly, social media giants are serious about the hygiene standards on their platforms and can be seen aggressively pushing forward that message. 

Not only does a cleaner, safer online environment benefit social media users, it also comes as great news for brands that are drawn to these platforms for the huge advertising potential they bring. As social media platforms emerged, brands were quick to realise its potential and devised new and innovative ways to connect with users. In fact, a whole new genre of advertising emerged and terms such as hashtags, influencers, user generated content, data, impressions, engagement became common marketing jargon.

The popularity of these platforms as an advertising medium stems from the mind boggling number of users. According to reports, Facebook, which has over 2 billion users worldwide, has its largest base in India. The other social media channels too are seeing equally strong growth numbers in India. A report by Mckinsey has stated that Indians spend an average of 17 hours a week on social media platforms. Which goes on to explain why the draw of these channels is impossible to ignore.

However, despite their popularity, these platforms frequently find themselves mired in some controversy or the other, whether it is privacy concerns, data breach, controversial or irresponsible content etc. This perhaps is the biggest worry for brands as they can face collateral damage due to its association with the platform.

Take for example the YouTube controversy that broke out earlier this year. Brands like Disney and Nestle` reportedly pulled out their advertisements after YouTube ran into trouble over alleged predatory content on its platform. TikTok too has had its share of controversies in India over the kind of content being uploaded on the platform. Instagram was the subject of much debate after a study reportedly found that the platform was considered detrimental to young people’s mental health. Facebook, of course, is no stranger to controversy as it time and again finds itself pulled over user privacy concerns.

Therefore, when the social media giants themselves make an attempt to sanitise the online space, it instils confidence in its users, thus ensuring the same confidence in brands to participate in that space.

According to Pooja Jauhari, CEO, The Glitch, fake news & privacy are the buzz words of our current times. “If platforms continue to stay true to their word and have the required controls, consumers will feel more and more confident about being on those platforms. So if customers are on a platform, brands will naturally be there.”

It goes without saying that the repercussions of these controversies are felt most by the social media apps themselves. But equally vary would be brands that are extremely sensitive to any controversy that could be seen as hurting their image. In today’s day and age, brands want to be seen participating as change makers and if social media platforms are seen as pushing a positive message, brands would feel encouraged to be associated with them.

Suneil Chawla, Co-founder, www.SocialBeat.in, feels that brands care about being present where consumers are active, and strongly prefer a clean environment to show their ads and make the emotional connection.

“So, controlling the menace of fake news and objectionable content is in the best interest of the platforms, if they want brands to continue making investments," Chawla opines.

Underlining the importance of trust being intrinsic for consumers, brands and platforms, Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Mirum India, says, "I think it is high time that social media platforms started responding to brand and consumer concerns. No one wants to be associated with a publisher with a poor reputation. And thus the need for these platforms to get their act together and set up mechanisms and processes to filter out fake news, racist or abusive content or anything that demeans another user or brand.”

“Not only do they need to work on containing bad content but they also need to allow their data and analytics to be audited by a third party, bringing in greater transparency and accountability. There has to be greater trust between consumers, brands and platforms. This would certainly encourage more businesses and brands using the platforms," he suggest.

According to Nikhil Mayne, Principal Partner Content +, Mindshare India, "There isn’t really one answer to this question, as it involves three parties – the consumer, the brand and the platform. The idea of a social network is to allow individuals to express themselves, so removing a function that allows for expression may in the long term be detrimental. As a brand, we use social media to increase engagement with our audience, engagement is measured in Likes, Shares and Comments."

"Removing one of these functions will affect the ways in which a consumer may engage with the said brand and therefore affect measurement. The word controversial is dependent on the context and the audience we are talking to; it is a function of societal norms that are very often not the law of the land. Brand Safe content vs controversial content is the question. Should these platforms ensure brand safety keeping in mind the laws of the land? The answer will always be a resounding Yes," Mayne added.

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