Can social media marketing overcome the backlash that sometimes arises from rational business decisions? That’s the question posed by a number of recent incidents in which companies took certain steps to avoid alienating the one-billion-consumer Chinese market. Unfortunately for those companies, doing so made them look kind of unfriendly to democratic ideals.
The protests in Hong Kong have amplified that perception. But what really amplified that perception was social media. Sometimes, social media is even the source of the original affront to socially-conscious consumers. It was recently reported that DC Comics had apparently taken down a post after a Chinese user accused them of using Batman as a symbol of support for Hong Kong.
Social media marketing is indispensable. But it opens companies up to this sort of thing, where business decisions clash with public relations efforts and everyone knows about it. Unfortunately, this presents an arguably greater public relations challenge than the business world has ever faced before. It creates situations in which companies might have to risk alienating one consumer base or another, then controlling the damage.
It might seem like this problem is unique to multinational companies. No one else is very likely to have to navigate the contradictory demands of Chinese authorities and Western consumers. But even if a company’s social media marketing is managed locally by a Los Angeles marketing firm, there are bound to be situations in which business decisions broadcast company values.
The challenge for every company, larger or small, is to decide which of its values are more important than money. Because if the answer is “none of them,” it’s a foregone conclusion that social media is going to expose the first perceived example of shameless greed. It might even be the company’s own social media accounts that do the exposing.
Some companies may be able to weather that storm. It’s unlikely that DC Comics is going to suffer severe, long-term consequences from its recent gaffe. But weathering a storm means being prepared in advance. And in today’s climate, no one should be taken by surprise when what a seemingly sensible business decision turns into a public relations crisis.