Business Today

The Death of Taste

Companies need to entrust experienced people with their social media accounts to ensure that their reputation is polished, not tarnished.

twitter-logoChitra Narayanan | April 30, 2015 | Updated 11:15 IST

Deputy editor Chitra Narayanan
"Adversity does not build character, it reveals it," said American novelist James Lane Allen. And so it was, when the earthquake ripped through Nepal on Saturday, destroying lives and homes. Indian brands were quick to show their true character, both the good and the ugly side of it.

On one hand, with phone lines jammed, several telecom companies spontaneously announced rate cuts to Nepal to enable people to reach across to their loved ones. Some airlines cut fares to zero (though of course the government refused to waive taxes).

At the other end of the spectrum, there were brands such as Lenskart, which used the earthquake to tell its customers to "shake it off" and American Swan, which announced "earth shattering" sales offers. Whatever happened to good taste?

Much has been said on Twitter about the Lenskart fiasco. The founders subsequently apologised through a blog post - a fairly sincere sounding apology and, hopefully, some lessons have been learnt.

But, in my book, the chapter is not fully closed. Because if you look at the way companies hire social media managers, there are several Lenskarts just waiting to happen.

Just glance through the jobs postings on LinkedIn for a social media manager or online marketer's position and the average experience sought is roughly two years. The skillsets required sound more like catch phrases, with sentences like 'Must be self-starter and work with a high level of initiative and flexibility'; 'Ability to remain professional under high pressure situations'; Ability to retain and protect confidential material'; and 'exceptional business-writing skills'.

Apart from this, of course, the candidate must know all social apps, have technical knowledge and is expected to be on call 24/7.

If you have ever been part of a talent acquisition team, you must be rolling on the floor laughing by now. Isn't it a bit of a tall ask - to find all these skills rolled into a candidate with just one or two years' experience? That too at the salaries quoted? If you check, the average salary for a social media manager is Rs 3.4 lakh a year. The average pay for an online marketer is Rs 3.08 lakh.

Despite so much being written about the importance of online reputation management, brands continue to trustingly hand over their social media handles to callow trainees. Would the head of marketing in a company hand over the keys of the locker where the family jewels are stored to anyone? Then how come a business' most precious possession - its brand name - is handed over to a person who does not have the maturity to discern the right time to practice levity?

Speed kills, rarely thrills It's not just a social media problem, but a far larger malaise. The job functions where the customer encounters the brand - really important customer touch points - are increasingly delegated to inexperienced people who are thrown in at the deep end without proper training. Take modern retail stores, staffed by indifferent, youthful faces. Each time you go to the store, the face has changed. Contrast this to your neighbourhood 'kirana' store, where there is something reassuring about the old codger of an owner, unfailing in his presence at the till.

Take the reception desks of hotels, where plastic smiles have replaced traditional warmth. Or take a newspaper, where sub editors who cannot tell the difference between lose and loose or fowl and foul are given the responsibility to close pages and send them to print.

A newspaper's most important asset is its content, right? Shouldn't the content sparkle and shine, be polished lovingly by those versed in the craft of editing? And yet, the sad reality is the content is pushed out with just a cursory automated spell check.

This is not to say that organisations should hire only senior personnel for these job roles. How would the young gain experience otherwise? But there must be checks and balances put in place to prevent misadventures like Lenskart.

Whatever has happened to supervisors, whose role is to keep an eye open watchfully for "situations", troubleshoot and also teach on the job? Yes, in the interest of cutting response time to seconds, businesses are cutting down on layers. But I would say that in the lanes of the internet,: the same rules apply as on city roads - speed kills. Better to be slow and safe than fast and fall.

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