2019 is fast becoming the year of anti-social media. Not a week passes without reading a headline about how social media is responsible for spreading fake news, influencing political campaigns or encouraging self-harm amongst teenagers.
This negative news has been reflected financially, with 2019 seeing the first ever drop in Facebook profits, as advertisers are weary of social media. Lush Cosmetics announced they are ditching social media as they no longer want to ‘fight the algorithm.’
My question is who is responsible for the content on social media? Is it governments? The social media giants who provide the platforms? Or is it the brands that use them? The answer should be all three, but are we seeing blame shift around? Or is this more of a question of culture? Social media (and the internet for that matter) is just another communication channel. Ideas have always passed through whatever communication channels are available, but what makes social media different is the speed and size of the potential audience, where vulnerable people are exposed and used.
When creating content, hours are spent understanding the audience, researching the landscape and answering that elusive question ‘will it work’? As marketeers, we expect our campaigns to go well and meet our objectives, but sometimes they don’t. Gillette’s ‘Toxic Masculinity’ campaign is a prime example of the wrong type of attention and how quickly you are influenced by negative opinions, even before you’ve seen the content. As I am sure Gillette would acknowledge, the content is ultimately their responsibility and not the social media platforms it has chosen to use.
Mastercard’s CMO Raja Rajamannar, has taken the bold and innovative step in leading the way in online brand safety and risk management, by hiring functions that evaluate the risk and ensure the safety of their audience. In a recent interview with Digiday, Raja said:
‘Advertisers need to rethink their playbook. We invest so much time and effort in building a brand that we’d like to be proud of and wins the consumers trust. We don’t want to put that safety in jeopardy. We have to not accept compromises. If we find media where safety is at risk we won’t go there. Or we’ll pay a premium in order to do that. Also, what about societal safety? As marketers, and as people who are channels and channel owners – collectively we all owe to society to make digital a safe place. When marketing comes together and has conversations, everyone says we’re doing on the best effort. Social media channels own the accountability and responsibility for this and they have to deliver it and we have to move beyond philosophical agreements.’
‘Those who fail to plan, plan to fail’
Those are words taught to me by my A-Level business studies teacher that still ring true today. When launching any campaign, the risk must be mitigated by thinking of the ‘what ifs.’ Do you know what to do in a potential backlash? Is your audience safe? Once it has happened it is too late, being reactive takes too long.
Having a robust social media crisis communication and escalation plan is essential for any modern campaign planning. Knowing who your potential advocates and detractors are, and being ready to explain yourself in an open and transparent manner, is key to mitigating any negative reaction.
So, let’s see what the rest of 2019 brings, hopefully, more brands will be following Mastercard’s lead and taking responsibility for the content and communities they create.
Simon Sanett is a social strategist based in Cognito's London office
To read more on sustainability and marketing, read the other three parts of our ESG special: