The rise in popularity of parody Twitter accounts is forcing many companies to take a walk down the hall of mirrors and have a good, hard look at themselves.
Oh I do hope so.
You see, for several years (and numerous blog posts) I’ve been banging on about how reputation management for companies largely depends on their ability to not p*** people off.
That’s not so much a function of your Communication or Marketing department as it is a commitment by management and their staff to behave in a way that consumers (and by extension, society in general) find acceptable.
In many instances, things that are popularly called “crises” are cases where a brand’s behaviour violates the promise the company made to its market.
In other words, if you represent yourself as a big corporate evil, and behave as such, then people will generally accept you for who you are. You may not be popular, but at least you’re honest.
Similarly, if you represent yourself as a benevolence personified, so long as you behave accordingly, you’re going to be fine.
It’s when you tell people one thing, and then behave in a contrary way, that companies run into trouble.
And so to Twitter, and while there’s an element of truth to the fact a blog post about Twitter and crisis management is purely link bait to the Twitterati marketing community, this post is hopefully something pragmatic for readers to work with.
Courtesy of Tim Whitlock, a technical consultant to the communications industry in London, I’ve come across Twitter’s point of view with respect to parody accounts.
You know the ones, the kind with handles like @BPGlobalPR, or @GapLogo, or formerly @sean376 (yes, we miss you). The ones whose follower counts eclipse those of the brands they seek to mock, usually many times over.
Here’s the important bit: “Twitter provides a platform for its users to share and receive a wide range of ideas and content, and we greatly value and respect our users’ expression. Because of these principles, we do not actively monitor users’ content and will not edit or remove user content, except in cases of violations of our Terms of Service.”
Ah. That’s a problem. The fastest-growing publishing platform in the world is actively encouraging amateur humourists to take the proverbial, right under the noses of the world’s biggest brands.
And here’s the thing. While journalism has a professional code of ethics, and Jo Q Public citizen journalist does have to operate within some (albeit largely misunderstood) defamation and libel laws…parody is arguably an artform, and in many places occupies a more privileged space.
The problem for brands that find themselves the subject of one of these accounts is, therefore, exacerbated beyond the now infamous Streisand Effect. Not only is taking action going to draw attention to something you want hidden, it’s going to show you up as being a bad sport. After all, we all remember the primary-school mantra taught by our parents: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Oh, but they will. How then, does a multinational corporation, responsible for the salaries of a hundred thousand employees and the wellbeing of their families, guard against such public humiliation and reputational damage? Sure, you could try “engaging in the dialogue” or “joining the conversation”. Right. And heckling Billy Connolly’s also a good idea.
The answer is disappointingly simple, and despairingly unattainable. You have to take the oxygen away from the fire. Without fuel, fire doth not burn.
The only way to avoid criticism is…not to upset people. Bugger, that’s going to be tough. Just ask the folk over at Gap Towers. Heeding the boundaries of the consumer comfort zone pretty much kills all chance of innovation, development, edgy marketing campaigns, or even fun. I probably wouldn’t be allowed to write this drivel for starters.
So here’s a compromise. Live your brand. Articulate the values you stand for. Proclaim them from every wall of your HQ, post them on every tea-room notice board, bulk out your email signature with the ten things your brand lives by. And then go out and live it. People may not like it. But if you do what you say, they’ll accept, and usually, respect you for it.
But understand this: Living your brand is not your best defence. It’s your only defence.