Social media: All publicity is good publicity, right?

Apr 14th, 2023

Before we delve into this insight, I have an age-old (well, not that old) philosophical question for you.

Is social media… good?

A study conducted by Harvard University in 2020 found that yes, it most certainly can be good for our mental health and wellbeing. The research included a nationally representative sample and sought to find out if routinely using social platforms could be beneficial to social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health.

The results are possibly what you might have expected. In a nutshell, our mental-health in regards to routine use of these platforms is underpinned by our emotional connection to what we interact with.

Socials allow instant conversations which offer the possibility of sharing knowledge, however not all information that is so readily available is accurate, I’ve written about this in the last issue of Benchmark magazine, but you can also find the particular article here.

Misinformation is readily available to social media digesters, and, as such, means that there are people looking to capitalise on those who might believe anything they read, via any media distribution method. While this is simply a side effect of having wider connectivity, it does mean that social media opens the system up to those who will exploit it for their own agendas.

The use and importance of social media in communications and public relations has grown drastically throughout the years and is now a staple in advertisements to mass audiences.

In turn, we have witnessed a significant decrease in the consumption of traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc.). And while we have always seen different types of publicity (within the likes of tabloids), the prevalence of opportunities from social media has increased the proclivity for publicity… good or bad.

The role of publicity is to raise awareness of an individual, product, or
service and to capture the attention of the audience. However, a marketing idea that public relations and marketing firms have contested throughout time is “All Publicity Is Good Publicity”. This may have been true years ago since any sort of publicity, good or bad, as long as it generates awareness, was ideal

Negative publicity has provided ways for businesses to make a lasting impression, which has contributed to some unfortunate marketing decisions.

A great example of negative publicity on social media has to be:

On January 25, 2013, a pastor who had eaten at an Applebee’s restaurant crossed out the automatic 18% tip charged for parties of more than eight and wrote “I give God 10% why do you get 18” above her signature. A waitress at the restaurant took a photo of this and posted it on Reddit. She was subsequently fired for “violating customer privacy” which would have been understandable if Applebee’s had not posted a similar receipt that was complimenting them just 2 weeks prior. As news of this incident spread like wildfire and infuriated people across all social media platforms, Applebee’s responded with a short post defending their actions on their Facebook page. This quickly drew over 10,000 mostly negative comments, to which Applebee’s started responding by posting the same comment over and over again.

They were also accused of deleting negative comments and blocking users. The downward spiral continued as Applebee’s persisted to defend their actions and argue with users that criticised them. By the following day, after the original post had generated over 19,000 comments, Applebee’s decided to hide the post which only created more anger (Thompson, 2015).

Social media is a battleground for marketers trying to put their stamp on various platforms, but the thought that “all publicity is good publicity” is now simply archaic. The position of a brand will rely heavily on positive publicity, be it through word of mouth in daily conversations or through the digestion of various media on social platforms – it would be detrimental and damaging to a company nowadays to be associated with bad publicity.

If you ever do find your company amidst negative viewership, it is essential to have a risk management strategy in place.

Risk management includes the governance of your current social media strategy/plan in addition to the foresight of any future risks to that strategy. Educating yourself and key stakeholders in your company is pivotal to any great risk management strategy, and having policies in place for any event is crucial to sidestepping any potential bad publicity.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Non-compliance to corporate social responsibility (CSR) is widely believed to lead to bad publicity.

The principle of CSR has grown in popularity among practitioners and researchers alike, and definitely, CSR has developed over time and may have various effects depending on the audience, organisation, and cultural context (Visser & Tolhust, 2017).

CSR activities that are acted on continuously can help companies with a bad reputation change consumer perception of said company. CSR promotional campaigns can make a significant impact on social issues. Moreover advertising campaigns that relate to a company’s CSR can affect long-term audience trigger interaction behaviour. In layman’s terms, if the company goes against their own CSR, their audience will view them as morally bad – if customers condone this behaviour, they might see themselves as morally bad too.

Advertising ethics

Advertising ethics refers to collecting specific rules that govern how the buyer and seller communicate. Advertising ethics often includes ethical questions about the advertising message, the audiences targeted by the advertisement, the advertising of controversial goods and services, and the impact of advertising on social principles.

Unethical practices often refer to the use of controversial content, and while marketers want to display their products/services as ‘the best’ they have to be careful to adhere to advertising ethics.

Bad publicity in the era of social media can be a nightmare. Everyone has a voice and isn’t afraid to use it. A simple case of not reading the room can prove to be the difference between a good lasting reputation and a bad one. You can’t permanently delete what you’ve shared once it’s on the internet, no matter how hard you try someone will have seen it.

All publicity is simply that, I don’t think it’s necessarily good or bad for business. How a company reacts to any negativity is what damages a business. Sweeping comments under the proverbial rug isn’t the answer, and nor is blindly arguing against everyone who comments something you don’t agree with. Having a solid social media policy, and strategy, will enable you to foresee any problems before they hit; and remaining flexible will allow for any last minute changes to the strategy.

Talk to the social experts, who ensure any publicity will put your company in a great light!

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