Cook’s Hierarchy of Social Media Backlash Motives

05 December 2008

been thinking a lot about social media backlash lately – when companies
find themselves on the receiving end of a social media kicking. I
recently asked some colleagues for examples and got a handful of great
references, including Jeremiah Owyang’s excellent chronology of the most high profile hidings.

Jeremiah has attempted to categorize these based on their impact, as follows:

  • Category
    1: Consumer revolt and use social media tools to tell their story, the
    brand doesn’t flinch, and there is no mainstream media coverage.
  • Category
    2: The backlash extends beyond just social media tools, the brand makes
    changes based on consumer feedback, and coverage extends to mainstream
    media and press.
  • Category
    3: Consumers use social media tools to spread backlash and there is
    considerable mentions from mainstream press. the backlash is more
    severe resulting in significant changes from the brand (hiring, firing,
    processes, policies or new teams put in place). This becomes a case
    study for social media books and is often discussed in social media
  • Category
    4: Number three plus short term financial impacts to the brand
    resulting in reduction of sales, revenue, increased costs, or impact to
    stock price less than 30 days.
  • Category
    5: Number three plus brand backlash from social media tools resulting
    in long term financial impacts to the brand including reduction in
    sales, revenue, increased costs, and most importantly, stock price
    lasting over 30 days. In the most extreme cases, it causes closure of
    the business or bankruptcy.

I feel that there’s a missing factor here that needs to be considered, which is the motivation for the backlash. With that in mind, here is my suggested hierarchy of social media backlash motives and the things that companies ought to do to counter them:

is rarely intentional. The Internet makes it easy for people to
repurpose incorrect or out-of-date information that they believe to be
authoritative and accurate. The biggest culprit here is information
posted on Wikipedia.When you come across examples of misuse, you should
offer help by providing the right information or – if you cannot be
impartial – point people to an independent source.

that is left unchallenged often leads to misinformation as more and
more people repurpose the same opinion. Inaccuracy spreads online
faster than accuracy. It can be self-correcting, but that’s by no means
a given.In most cases* misinformation needs correcting, but companies
need to be very careful to use proportionate force.

* There
will be times when the motive behind misinformation is actually
malicious. In these cases, it will never get corrected and could even
fuel a bigger fire. Proceed with caution.

easy to mistake the motive behind mischief for malice, when all people
want to do is ruffle your feathers, teach you a lesson or vent their
frustration over something your company has – or hasn’t – done. In most
cases they want to know that someone from your company is listening and
might even apologize or even solve their problem. In my view this is
the most common motive behind social media backlash.Unless there is
clearly a malicious motive, there is no reason not to respond. Even if
you can’t fix the problem, at least show that you’re listening.*

Hint: in order to show that you’re listening, you have to actually
listen. You can search blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and many other
social media platforms for your company or brands and subscribe to the
results by email or RSS.

backlashes are intended from the outset to do damage. They are few and
far between, but general originate from people who have a real axe to
grind. They could be disgruntled employees or suppliers intent on
hitting you where it really hurts, denting your reputation and worse
still your revenues or profits.Where legal recourse is warranted,
you’ll have no option but to use it, but I suggest it should be the
last resort after all other avenues have been expended. Instead, try to
use the networks of supporters that you have built by participating in
social media (which you have done, right?) to fight your corner for you.

I’m sure there’ll
be disagreement about some – if not all – of this, but I’d love to hear
your thoughts. Does this work for all the examples you can think of,
and could it be used alongside Jeremiah’s impact categories to help
build a profile of the kinds of social media backlash that companies
are experiencing now and in the future?

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