When brands face warranted wrath on Twitter, should they.... delete or defend?
Vistara - an airline that is a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines landed in hot water after they tweeted a photograph of retired Major General GD Bakshi with their staff. The picture sparked an unexpected reaction on social media.
Shortly after, #BoycottVistara was trending. Major General GD Bakshi (retd.) has a history of promoting divisive ideologies during televised primetime news debates as well as talks and lectures that he has delivered in person. When Vistara initially tweeted the picture, the response was mixed - one group of users was quick to point out the ideologies he had discussed in the past, but another group was respectful of the fact that he was a veteran in the Kargil war. A little after #BoycottVistara began trending, Vistara deleted the post. They issued a statement shortly after, but the damage was done.
Post deleting the post, a third group of people cropped up who said that Vistara shouldn't have given in to the pressure, but should have stood its ground.
We spoke to WATConsult's CEO Rajiv Dingra to understand the problem better; he shared his opinion with us. Dingra believes that the brand should stick to its stance if it believes it has done no wrong. Unless the brand has made a mistake or wrongly posted information, it should not apologise or take a tweet down. He pointed out the most important thing that marketers and brand managers must remember - customers and users value a brand that has a spine. He reiterated that there does have to be a clear error in judgement or factual information, on the brand's part, to take the above action. A brand should avoid retracting once it has taken a stance.
While speaking to him, afaqs! understood that there was more to this than meets the eye. We got in touch with experienced individuals who have worked with brands extensively in the course of their career and this is what they had to say...
Sanjay Tripathy - Co-Founder and CEO - Agilio Labs
If a brand or a marketer has taken a stance, they should stick to it if they believe it's the right thing to do. If it has created some sort of negative opinion, then the marketer needs to ask himself if they've actually gone wrong in terms of the communication or is it just people being trolls. They need to ascertain how people are reacting and they should do the right thing. Brands should be open to some kinds of negative publicity too.
To determine if a brand should delete a post or not, they should do a sentiment analysis to see what people are saying about the post. There are ORM tools which will help you do that. Brands should have multiple layers of approval and communications should go through multiple channels of scrutiny before it's put out. The brand can also take a call, along with its social media agency, before putting out a communication.
In the current situation where Jet Airways has gone down, airline brands don't want negative publicity. They're most likely to gain due to periods of non-availability. Maybe it's just contextual in nature. It comes down to immediacy and how people are reacting.
Sudhir Nair - Founder and Director - 21N78E
Whether a brand chooses to participate in social media actively is immaterial these days. If they don't, consumers will. Historically, any brand that chose to ignore conversations has had to bite the bullet and play catch-up eventually.
It should absolutely defend its turf. There are more than enough trolls around and social does have a herd mentality. Momentary fame and the associated social currency tends to dictate the logic of comments. Specifically, in the context of Vistara, I personally feel the brand should have defended the tweet. All TATA brands have been apolitical for the longest time. Beyond his views, General Bakshi is a celebrated war veteran. There is no harm if Vistara chose to tweet his pic on board its flight. They have not endorsed his ideology. If we start discounting personalities basis their political beliefs, in the current context, you will be left taking selfies. If the brand had stayed its course, there would have been a lot of people who would see its point of view and the texture of the conversation would have changed. Any TATA brand has a lot of loyalists, myself included and in my experience, there would have been many like me jumping to its defence.
During election season the entire country is polarised one way or the other. Deletion is equal to succumbing to comments made by individuals with an alternative political belief. To me, it is also disrespecting a war veteran. Vistara should have stated its point of view and left it at that. The customer is the king; however one should look at it more objectively. It was not a case of unattended customer complaints or grievances. If the brand has hurt sentiments by virtue of its comments or views, it should apologise and delete the communication. In this case, how do General Bakshi's political views make him any lesser a war veteran? What has the brand said that endorses his views? By deleting the tweet, the brand has insulted his contribution. A strong, reputed and respected brand like TATAs needn't do that.
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Pops KV Sridhar - Founder and Chief Creative Officer - Hyper Collective
The most basic thing is that you must have a tone and you must have a voice. If you're going to change your tone/opinion, nobody is going to take you seriously. We have an opinion and we stand by it unless convinced otherwise.
Coca Cola has a stance of optimism and all their communications are through that lens. Their stance is bringing the world together with coke. They faced a lot of backlash for taking this stance, but they stood by it.
If you don't respond within three minutes, the response doesn't matter to the person who raised the query on Twitter. You must have the control to send out a tweet immediately. If you're running a social response cell, it should be there 24x7 and they must understand the brand's point of view, its tone and the dos and don'ts. If they understood, they wouldn't have tweeted about Bakshi. He has made comments about Indo-Pakistan relations in the past.
There is an opportunity because Jet Airways is going down. Vistara doesn't have a point of view; they let a tactical one go through and then realised it's going to affect the larger TATA brand. The TATA brand is all about the impact on society, not the impact on the bottom line.