Do brands risk all for Facebook fame?

woodger 2Facebook should be a very powerful tool to help brands reach out to consumers. Instead it’s all too often dysfunctional and seems to serve no one – least of all brands and consumers.
One classic example is a recent post on Nike’s own Facebook site. Someone somewhere posted a protest under the “discussion board” section, stating “Nike uses child labor (sic)”. The post itself was simply deleted.
Fair enough, perhaps. It’s Nike’s site after all, and it should be able to deal with such postings in the way it sees fit. However, Nike hasn’t bothered to remove the rest of the post. We may have lost the precise details of the accusation, but we can still clear see just what it was about. Perhaps it wants to appear both welcoming of criticism and yet at the same time send a subtle message that it will deal with such matters on its own terms? Even being kind to them, it looks confused and hesitant. Two words not usually associated with the Nike brand.
The horrible thing is that it’s by no means the worst use of Facebook you could come across. Spend just half an hour sifting through the sites of major brands and you’ll come across plenty more. The walls of far, far too many Facebook pages are littered with service complaints which would have been better dealt with through the proper customer service channels. Instead they’ve become so much dirty linen flapping about in cyberspace. That wouldn’t be so bad if they were dealt with – quickly, efficiently and well. The trouble is they usually aren’t. Which leads one to the very obvious question: why are such companies bothering with Facebook at all?
The site should be a brilliant way for brands to interact with consumers. One or two brands and organisations understand this – and there are good examples of companies which seem to grasp this new media in all its prickly glory. For the rest the struggle – and all too public failure – to manage this “democratic” media makes you wonder why they were ever persuaded to give it a go in the first place. Let alone the amazing fact that they did and then set about doing it so, so badly. It’s a good job that for many the number of Facebook followers they have isn’t anywhere near the customers they actually enjoy.
Where it does work, Facebook is a true extension of everything a good brand should be: open, helpful, sharing, alert, and willing – above all else – to engage with consumers in a way which accentuates the positive aspect of the brand it represents. That needs to show through, even when it comes to dealing with difficult issues which could potentially be damaging. It’s tough to turn a negative into a positive, but if you choose to put your brand out on Facebook you have to be prepared to front up and deal with uncomfortable issues and the people who hold them. You can’t have it both ways.
Facebook or a slap in the Facebook? By all means pay your money and take your choice, but if your choice is to open your brand to consumer engagement, at least have some kind of strategy to deal with the inevitable negative posts, and one which goes beyond simply slamming the door.

Andrew Woodger is director of data and planning for integrated creative, digital and data advertising agency Purple

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