The Importance of Being Earnest

Two weeks ago Chick-fil-A fell into a major PR firestorm. What made the firestorm even worse was when one or more of the fast-food chain’s online defenders were alleged to have “fake” accounts. Chick-fil-A was accused of creating fake personas on Facebook to defend itself. Here are two lessons for brands to think about. First, make sure that the people who defend your brand are authentic; and second, make sure that the people who defend your brand are worthy of being your brand ambassadors.

Rewind a bit to the World Cup soccer tournament. Two English soccer players missed penalty kicks during the decider against Italy. England lost, and these two players were barraged by criticism. Some of the criticism turned ugly, especially on Twitter where users hurled abuse at these two players under assumed identities. It only took a week before these offenders were tracked down. They will be prosecuted. The implication for the rest of us is that any interaction on the web may not be anonymous.

So here is something simple for brands to think about. Our consumers know our brand commercials and they know how to spot our advertising on Google, so shouldn’t we tell them about Sponsored Stories or endorsements on Facebook? There are two ways to look at this. First, the consumer who is about to make the endorsement that will be turned into a sponsored story should either be given an opportunity to earn an affiliate marketer’s fee or be told about their role in the commercial. Second, the consumer who gets to see the endorsement should be told that while their friend did like the product, there is a little commercial exchange in process.

Here are a few things brands should review in the interest of being earnest.

First, listen to the buzz about your brand. Do not influence the discussion through your own “ambassadors,” just try to listen so you can get real feedback and learn.

Second, be earnest. Your consumers depend on your brand’s integrity and transparency. This goes a long way in building up brand value.

Third, train all of your channels in how to respond to a crisis. Your employees and channels should be able to deliver the right message to consumers and they should be consistent. Make sure that you review your privacy and social media policy. Remind your employees that they all represent your brand.

Fourth, create a crisis plan. Get this plan approved upfront, so you don’t have to run around to get things approved in the event of a crisis.

Fifth, nurture your brand ambassadors. Work with your best “friends” online and cultivate this relationship for times of crisis too. Reach out to them via email or other channels and have them come and help you out when you need it.

The web makes things convenient. Brands need to be aware, careful, and respect this transparency.

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