POV: Can Social media harm a brand's image?

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | September 15, 2011
Brands like Vodafone and Kit Kat had to face the brunt of dissatisfied customers on the digital space. Can this platform damage a brand's image? afaqs! finds out.

Nimesh Shah
Head, Windchimes Communications

Yes, it can. However, there are certain conditions that apply. For example, the complainant must have the exact details with supporting documents of the complaint, and the veracity of the complaint must not be in question, neither should it be exaggerated.

This being the case, the complaint will be noticed -- and even supported -- by a larger set of complainants. Otherwise, I have seen that if the complaint is a one-off or an exaggerated version, users debate it amongst themselves and the overall negative effect is neutralised.

The brand team ends up damaging its reputation when it doesn't take a complaint seriously or becomes arrogant about its increasing consumer base. By reacting swiftly to a complaint, it can turn a negative instance into positive action and make a good example of itself.

Ramanuj Shastry
National creative director, Saatchi & Saatchi

No, I don't think social media can harm a brand's image. Brands must realise today that everybody is a reporter! The digital space is a platform where people can voice their grievances.

Earlier, brands could brush these grievances aside, but not anymore. Brands mustn't forget that the customer is the king, and the king has the right to voice his opinion. Sure, it is a bit inconvenient for large corporates to have these grievances aired publicly, but they need to wake up to this reality. Saying social media is harming the brand's image is like an ostrich hiding its face in the sand in the middle of a storm. In fact, it could be a good PR opportunity for brands. The damage that social media can do is nothing compared to the goodwill it can generate. Brands must try to convert grievances into opportunities and turn these bloggers and tweeters into brand ambassadors.

Rajesh Lalwani
Founder and Principal, Blogworks, and principal coordinator, IndiaSocial

The real question is whether there are deeper issues such as a product problem that the brand is not addressing, or a customer service issue.

It could be that consumers are merely trying to reach out to the brand. There are always two sides to a medium and the digital medium tends to act like a pressure group. Most brands are reactive when it comes to the social media space. They need to be proactive.

Brands are beginning to understand that there are multiple dimensions to how social media can impact the company's operations. How users and stakeholders of the brand can consume this digital medium differs from person to person. Brands need to understand this consumption pattern and move towards a more methodical and scientific approach to handling social media activity.

Abdul Khan
Senior vice-president, marketing, Tata Teleservices

Social media is just one of the many platforms today, but this media channel has a network or spread effect that has sort of replaced traditional word-of-mouth communication.

People use this platform to voice angst against a brand, and unfortunately, people like to spread bad news faster than good news on this platform. It is impossible for a brand to satisfy everyone at the same time at every touch point, 24X7. Any media can harm a brand -- but social media is a platform that reaches thousands at the same time, amplifying the effect.

Today, customers are very conscious of their rights and youngsters judge a brand based on its service. Thus, service marketing and service recovery from a perceived failure becomes important for any brand. The biggest transition is that consumers have become the media channel on the digital space.

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