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Why it's time for a social media primer for brands

By Romita Majumdar
July 05, 2018 08:28 IST
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Online bullies, haters, trolls -- call them what you will -- are the blight of social media, for not just individual users but also brands and companies.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Airtel found itself at the rough end of a raging battle on bigotry and religious discrimination recently.

A customer refused to be served by an executive because he followed a particular religion and initially it seemed as if the company was sidestepping the issue.


Airtel clarified its position after Twitter blew up over the comments, but it took a day to come out with an open letter that said it did not endorse the views of the prejudiced and abusive customer.

It was too late and even as Airtel has been vocal in its condemnation of such behaviour ever since, the outrage on social media still has the brand’s custodians walking on hot coals.

Online bullies, haters, trolls -- call them what you will -- are the blight of social media, for not just individual users but also brands and companies.

In the current era of intense public scrutiny and hyper engagement platforms, this means that brands have to toe a thin line in their bid to be omnipresent for their consumers.

Time to draw up a social media 101 for companies and their employees, say experts.

Consider the Airtel fiasco: while the company came out against the customer’s bigoted comments, it was too slow.

And it failed the first lesson on social media etiquette: Always track the entire Twitter handle to understand where the conversation is heading before responding.

“Large brands usually have a social media command centre who monitor any mention of the organisation across social media. These people are trained to handle such situations and if they can’t then they need to escalate matters and despite that when such situations occur, you can obviously say they need better training,” said Prabhakar Mundkur, senior brand strategy advisor.

Brands cannot afford to do without a social media presence. A digital marketing plan is a must, but things get complicated when conversations turn ugly and customers use social media pages as complaint cum rant centres.

Communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan points out that there is a difference between the customer care and corporate handles on social media.

The initial furore was around the responses by the customer care handle which usually has scripted responses.

“This is a lesson for the company to note that their brand is being tracked on the customer care handle as well and that they need to anticipate responses to all kinds of bizarre situations for their social media customer care teams,” said Srinivasan.

Brand experts say that while organisations do train their senior management on social media engagement, when it comes to personal accounts of other employees, it is usually handled by the human resources or legal team with little focus on how it impacts the company image as a whole.

And therein lie the seeds of potential PR crises, especially since everyone is online all the time and few people distinguish between the personal and the professional on these platforms.

“Organisations are finding innovative ways to communicate their USP to the external world today. New age recruitment tools and channels such as social networking, talent communities and peer outreach are fast becoming the norm,” said Paul Dupuis, MD and CEO, Randstad India.

He further notes that just like consumer marketing, social media is also gaining traction as a strategic channel for employer brand development.

A loyalist on social media may be the company’s next high performer, so it is vital to take an integrated approach to corporate and employer brand strategy, adjusting to the emerging trends and motivational buttons of the ‘new breed of candidates’.

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Romita Majumdar
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