Marketers can learn a lot from the online kerfuffle surrounding JCPenney’s hiring Ellen Degeneres as a spokeswoman. JCPenney's successful navigation of politically tricky waters stands in contrast to the Susan G. Komen debacle that occurred a few weeks earlier.
In both cases, political and personal views boiled to the surface in social conversations across Twitter, Facebook, and newer channels such as Pinterest. But JCPenney handled its naysayers differently than Komen did.
JCPenney is standing strong and consistent. It seems keenly aware that this surge of attention can make or break its brand. By contrast, Komen’s approach seemed arrogant and out of touch. I don’t think Komen had any clue how quickly social network-powered protests could galvanize against them. JCPenney apparently understands how to ride this turbulent wave with the right balance of head and heart.
Here are some key factors that any brand should keep in mind to chart a clear course through unpredictable, emotional, and politically charged online storms
Examine your heart. The core values of your company must come from the top and be clear. Brands such as Zappos know that everything hinges on clearly communicating those values throughout the company, to customers, and to the general public. Zappos publishes its values on its Website.
Be truthful and consistent. Don’t lie. On the Internet, lies are revealed, repeated, and retweeted faster than you can retract them. Then they remain online to haunt you. Before you commit to anything publicly, know exactly where you stand, what you want to say, and how you will react to what is being said by your customers and the public online.
Don’t clam up. JCPenney could have hunkered down when One Million Moms came out with their manifesto and spent days or weeks powwowing about how to handle this backlash. Instead, it faced the protests head on and garnered the level of PR exposure that you only dream your marketing dollars will buy. Statements from JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson were prompt and genuine. Ellen also took an uncharacteristic stand on her show in a warm, articulate, heartfelt manner, using her very public spotlight to address the issues head-on.
Take the high road. Don’t bash your haters. JCPenney’s Johnson didn’t disparage One Million Moms but instead acknowledged that “one of the great things about America is people can speak their mind.” It is easy to take a cheap shot at the naysayers or to ignore, underestimate, and dismiss. But being respectful -- especially in a heated situation -- speaks volumes about your company and your brand.
No company can ever predict the reactions online to their business decisions, dealings, and campaigns. But one thing is certain: Consumers have unprecedented access to global publishing tools and inter-linked virtual soapboxes, and their praise and complaints spread rapidly. Starting with a deep and honest examination of where you stand before taking a stand, and understanding the turbocharged word-of-mouth of social networking, can help keep your brand afloat.
But also (just to keep it complicated) responses should be firm and really firm. The deadliest sign you can give off is "unless of course someone is offended and then we'll do anything to placate them." It pulls in social media attack the way "C'mon, guys, this isn't funny ..." used to set off bullies on the schoolyard, and for similar reasons.
@Ellis. Thanks for sharing this. I find this interesting for a number of reasons: how the card read in the first place (sensitive subject matter, although I don't doubt that many will find humor in it), the source of the uproar, and how Target worked to resolve it. Good move by them.
Don't lie. On the Internet, lies are revealed, repeated, and retweeted faster than you can retract them.
True, true. The number one rule is to think before you speak--otherwise, you could have it reversed and used against you in an instant. The thing with social media, as you've mentioned, is that everything will spread like wildfire. You only need one spark to start the fire, and once it's lit, it will take a great deal of time to put off.
When watching companies handle such situations, the one thing I prefer to see is a strong stance in one position; as you state/advise. I feel Netflix could have learned from some of these notes as their wavering positions and poor choices led me to cancel and switch to Hulu. I think with the way social media can deliver messages and share opinions, the impossible goal of pleasing everybody has become even more impossible. Because of this, I think companies need to rely on honesty and consistency so those who don't agree may atleast develop a level of respect.
@smkinoshita absolutely. Otherwise things can descend into personal attacks that get really ugly -- like some of the flaming comments you can see on blogs or even on YouTube videos. It really boils down to being able to disagree agreeably.
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