We know why social media is attractive for business. It provides efficient and cheap platforms to connect to customers, allows firms to obtain feedback for developing new products/ideas and ultimately can increase revenue. But as with all things in life, social media brings its own set of risks and challenges for business.
Coopers Brewery: A Case Study
Let’s get topical. Coopers are the largest Australian owned brewery and a company that has managed to increase sales consistently for 22 years. The Coopers brand is well liked in Australia and carries a lot of public good will. Canstar rated Coopers as the third best overall Beer Brand (and the tastiest) in Australia in 2011:
Image source: Canstar Blue
2 weeks ago however Coopers ignited a social media firestorm. As part of commemorating their 200 year relationship with The Bible Society the company launched a campaign called ‘Keeping it Light‘. The intention of the campaign was to discuss topical issues in a respectful manner and to further the public debate. The first part of the campaign was a video featuring 2 MP’s discussing Same Sex Marriage, one in support and the other opposed. The video was interspersed with Coopers product placement and ended with the 2 MP’s agreeing to take alternative sides to the debate.
Image source: Startsat60
The campaign bombed. Within a day a Twitter hashtag was active (#boycottcoopers), negative Facebook reviews were pouring in (pun intended), Sydney & Melbourne pubs pulled their product and even google reviews were not spared from the backlash. Hot on the heels of the successful CUB 55 boycott, Coopers were reminded that Australian beer drinkers are not afraid to put their wallets where their mouths are.
A sample of the backlash. Image sources multiple (Twitter, Facebook, Google)
Coopers drastically misread their audience with this social media campaign. As an independent brewery, Coopers have developed a particularly strong following in Inner City Australia where support and sentiment for same sex marriage is at its peak (51.4% of Inner Sydney voters disagreed with the definition of marriage between a man and women vs a 43% NSW average). Regardless of the intentions of the campaign Coopers was seen to have given a tacit approval to discrimination and homophobia and the internet made them well aware of it.
Coopers released a press statement and video expressing their regrets and affirming their support for marriage equality but the example shows just how rapidly in the social media age brand damage can occur. Further more Coopers are now dealing with a (smaller) backlash from those opposed to same sex marriage, upset they have withdrawn from their Bible Society campaign.
Image source: Facebook
The Coopers case shows the company drastically failed to preempt the public response to its campaign. As a result the firm suffered brand damage and there has almost certainly been an impact at the revenue level.
It is however only the latest in an increasing number of high profile social media failures by organisations both large and small. McDonalds Trump Tweet, #askseaworld, Applebees Staff Firing, #racetogether and Amy’s Baking Company are just a few failures that we are becoming all too accustomed with in the Web 2.0 world.
Mitigating the Risk
The Coopers case study and a number of the other examples linked to tend to show a common thread. Businesses fail to take a wider stakeholder view when formulating their social media strategy, insert their own business in to contentious societal issues and then are surprised (and often misstep in their initial response) when the internet reacts.
The results are damaged brands, weakened credibility and reduced profitability. There is no one silver bullet checklist for avoiding social media backlash and the risks of not being online for most negate the potential negative impacts but businesses need to wise up, learn from their own and others failures and play to their brand strengths.
Some simple common sense tips before implementing a social media campaign include:
- Analyse the external environment
- Consider ALL stakeholders
- Research or use focus groups before deploying a social media campaign
And if it all still goes wrong:
- Own your mistakes quickly
- Don’t argue
- Make it right