One reason for social media’s ubiquitous evolution is its communal characteristics and society’s attachment to it as an honest and transparent information sharing mechanism. It makes people feel good within our technology-dominant society.
An interesting evolution of social media is how it has become a self-regulating and self-correcting medium where the participants, or “community members,” call out each other when activities or motives have been found to be questionable.
Paul Gillin, in his book The New Influencers, writes that “millions of writers of all ages, interests, languages and motivations are together forming a set of shared principles, operating standards and behaviors without any kind of central coordination.”
This phenomenon of self-regulation has created a system that places significant value on honest and straightforward communication over “salesy” methods. As such, organizations must consistently evaluate the potential reputational harm that might arise from their business practices as a result of the shift in power from enterprise to consumer that has resulted through social media.
“There are almost limitless ways that companies can look bad publicly,” said Jared Wade. “But the digital world offers many new ways for companies to hurt their own brands.”
How big companies can hurt their brands
A frequently cited reputational risk story is Wal-Marting Across America. In 2006, a couple decided to blog about their experience of traveling from Las Vegas to Georgia. The couple decided to travel in an RV and stop each evening at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Since Wal-Mart provides RVs with free parking, the use of Wal-Marts among the RV community is a common staple..
The blog seemed ordinary enough. The blog was a couple’s diary that described their experiences on the road and their interactions with Wal-Mart employees during stop overs. What was not disclosed until it was too late was that Working Families for Wal-Mart was providing the couple with their travel budget. Working Families for Wal-Mart was an organization that was significantly funded by Wal-Mart Stores.
The result was the beginning of a public relations nightmare for the retailer. “Wal-Mart has hired fake people,” said Jonathan Rees, a labor historian and associate professor at Colorado State University at Pueblo.
Any time an organization undertakes social media activities intended to mislead the community, the organization risks that the social media community will respond in an adverse manner. The danger lies in the potential for the backlash to take on viral characteristics that spread the negative publicity to an extent that causes serious damage to the organization.
Jesse Torres has spent nearly 20 years in leadership and executive management posts, including executive management roles at financial institutions. In 2013 the Independent Community Bankers of America named him a top community banker influencer on social media. He is a frequent speaker at financial services and leadership conferences and has written several books. He hosts an NBC News Radio show called Money Talk with Jesse Torres.
Follow @ or contact Jesse@JesseTorres.com