Each brand has a different social media policy. But most have a single-line brief for their marketing teams and digital agencies -- "Dont touch anything political or religious." While this strategy helped brands avoid controversies in initial days of social media, it might not be foolproof anymore. Telecom major Airtel had to face a backlash last month when it did not take a stand about a religious controversy involving its customer care on Twitter. Cab aggregator Ola, too, faced a similar situation, but fared better as it took a stand. What should be the ideal strategy when a brand lands in a political or religious controversy on social media? Should it sweep it under the carpet or voice out its stand? The experts are divided.
Advertising industry veteran K.V. Sridhar says brands need to be more responsive and have a point of view. "If you dont have a point of view, then people will not listen to you or follow you. Brands that have no point of view have no future," he adds. He cites examples of global fashion brand United Colours of Benetton, Titan Company's Fastrack and Tata Tea to illustrate the effectiveness of campaigns with a positive social message.
A study conducted by Sprout Social, a provider of social media management, advocacy and analytics solutions for businesses, found that consumers look up to brands that take a stand. According to the findings of the survey, two-third consumers (66 per cent) say it's important for brands to take public stand on social and political issues; and more than half (58 per cent) were open to this happening on social media. The survey, conducted among 1,000 people in the US, made another interesting revelation. While 78 per cent respondents who identified themselves as liberal wanted brands to take a stand, only about half (52 per cent) of those who identified themselves as conservative felt the same. Similarly, 82 per cent liberals felt that brands are credible when they take a stand, while only 46 per cent conservatives had the same view.
However, some don't favour ditching the golden rules that have broadly worked so far. "A brand has a target audience and its consumers belong to every party and group. So, the moment you go and say something, whether it is political or religious, you have a problem with your consumers," says Prathap Suthan, Chief Creative Officer at Bang in the Middle, a new-age communications company.