Written by Saranda Vejseli
Traditional channels, with one-way messages in channels where the target audience was believed to be, have been frequently used in advertising in earlier years. Today, a shift has been made towards the use of social and digital channels, where companies’ are part of two-way conversations where they also have to listen to potential customers. Hence, communication between a company and its customers has become a significant part of advertising (Wetch, 2012).
Business is highly affected by social media (Corstjens and Umblijs, 2012), which Scott (2011) describes as”…how we refer to the various media that people use to communicate online in a social way”. This includes websites like Facebook and Twitter, but also for instance blogs, wikis and forums. Internet has evolved into an important tool in many people’s lives - for instance, nowadays it is more common to look for information or to seek for answers to a problem online, instead of using traditional tools that were more common further back in time. This has increased the importance for companies to become more available online, in order for buyers to obtain the information they need exactly when they need it (Scott, 2011).
A crisis has a high chance of occurring during a company’s existence (Yannopoulou et al, 2011). This was especially made clear to the food company Findus, who in February 2013 revealed that horsemeat was used instead of beef in one of their products (Findus.se). This caused a great discussion in the media, with Findus being one of the companies in focus (Aftonbladet.se, A).
As mentioned above, Internet has given both consumers and companies new ways to reach each other. This has resulted in a different way to work as a marketer and has given companies opportunities, but also challenges them to work in a new and different way. As crises might occur for companies and social media having a big impact on business, the purpose of this paper is to discuss and answer the question below:
Branding through Internet and social media – can these tools affect a crisis?
Social media gives people the opportunity to interact with brands that they connect with, but it gives companies a chance to make themselves heard as well. It also gives companies a chance to receive feedback on their brand strategy (Yan, 2011). As Armelini and Villanueva (2011) assert, “…you don’t even exist in consumers’ minds unless you chat with them on Twitter, have followers in Facebook or publish a blog”. It is significant for brand marketers to work on the relationships with the buyers. Since Internet has introduced new ways for companies to reach their customers, the fact that building a company’s brand online is important has become clearer for companies (Neelotpaul, 2010). People that are active in different types of social media have more power now than before. A brand can be discussed without the approval of a company, which indicates that taking part in the world of social media might be an option for companies (Kietzmann et al, 2011). As mentioned above, business is highly affected by social media and activities in the media that are created by communities or consumers, and not the actual company, can also have an impact on the brand building and on the brand sales. A positive sentiment online towards the brand leads to better results when it comes to sales. A negative sentiment in social media, on the other hand, demands actions (Corstjens and Umblijs, 2012).
Social media affects consumers when it comes to the purchasing process. It is used as a way to get the information the consumers want exactly when it is needed and also gives them the opportunity to collect information and to read about what other people think (Naveed, 2012). Also, consumers nowadays are more involved in the process of creating, designing and promoting a product and are not as passive as before (Hanna et al, 2011).
Many international companies have experienced what kind of an issue a decrease in the trust among the public is for the brand. In order to not harm the brand, actions have had to be taken in several companies against these types of issues. Communication has an important role when it comes to the overcoming of a crisis – the company’s website is one way to communicate, because it gives the company the opportunity to speak to and explain itself to the public (Greyser, 2009). As Neelotpaul (2010) also asserts, “the internet has been shown to be more interactive and has greater capability, compared to traditional media, to encourage one-to-one interaction”.
A crisis can result in bad publicity for a company, but it is something that it cannot keep away from. A product-related crisis that becomes public can affect the trust for the brand - customers can also begin to see the brand in a negative way. Mass media has a big part in this, because it helps create a negative view of the brand in crisis among the public (Yannopoulou et al, 2011).
In February 2013, it was revealed that horsemeat was used instead of beef in several products from companies in the food industry. One of the first companies to be discussed about in the media was Findus, who decided to retract products from the shelves in grocery stores around Europe (Aftonbladet.se, A). This decision was made after the company checked the meat in their lasagne as a result from a disclosure made by Irish authorities in the beginning of 2013, when horsemeat was found instead of beef in products in Ireland and England (Findus.se). According to Findus, their subcontractor in Romania is the one responsible for using the wrong meat and the company is currently, together with its French supplier, preparing to sue the subcontractor (Aftonbladet.se, B). However, the incorrect meat was not only used in products from Findus – Axfood decided to also retract 3 different types of lasagne from their range because the meat in the products was delivered by the same slaughterhouse that delivered horsemeat to Findus (Axfood.se). The food company Nestlé has also been affected by this meat scandal and has retracted a few finished dishes that have been sold in Italy and Spain. This shows that a big part of the industry is involved in the scandal, which has caused a decreased faith in the food companies among consumers. A study made shows that sales of hamburgers has decreased with 43 % compared to last year only in Great Britain (www.dn.se)
A scandal like this does not necessarily mean that a brand will be affected negatively - if it is handled in a correct way, the crisis can be transient. In a Swedish meat scandal a couple of years ago, when it was revealed that Ica-stores relabelled minced meat, permanent damage was not caused on the Ica brand. However, social media was not used that much at the time – today Facebook and Twitter can contribute to a faster spread of a scandal like this. According to Findus, many consumers have shown their indignation on their Facebook page, which has lead Findus to start to answer them there as well. Public figures like Hugh Grant and David Batra have also been tweeting about the scandal (SvD Näringsliv). Findus say that they work on media and social media round-the-clock as a way to handle this scandal and that the company also works on trying to answer more questions regarding it (www.dagensmedia.se).
The use of social and digital channels is much more common today, which has lead advertising to become more of a two-way conversation between companies and consumers (Wetch, 2012). As mentioned before, social media have an impact on business (Corstjens and Umblijs, 2012), and this is something that the food company Findus realized when the meat scandal was revealed in February 2013. People that are active in social media are more powerful today and discussions can be made freely (Kietzmann et al, 2011) – a negative sentiment online towards the brand demands actions to be made, while a positive sentiment can lead to better results in sales (Corstjens and Umblijs, 2012). For Findus, one way to handle the scandal has been to work round-the-clock on social media and media.
In order to reduce damage that a decrease in trust for a brand among the public causes, companies need to take actions (Greyser, 2009). Findus is not the only company involved in this meat scandal – other companies in the industry, like Axfood and Nestlé, have been affected as well. This has caused the consumers to acquire a decreased faith in the food companies and the sales of hamburgers in Great Britain have, for instance, decreased with 43 % in only a year. Companies cannot avoid crises from occurring (Yannopoulou et al, 2011), and as stated by Greyser (2009), communication is important when it comes to the overcoming of a crisis for a company. As it nowadays is more common for people to look for answers to their questions online, the significance for companies to be available online has increased. That is so buyers can get the information they need (Scott, 2011). It is stated that the consumer purchasing process is affected by social media (Naveed, 2012) and social media like Facebook and Twitter have the power to cause a faster spread of a scandal like the one the food companies are experiencing today than it could a couple of years ago. Findus have, for instance, experienced a high pressure on their Facebook page, resulting in the company starting to answer questions there as well.
As social media has become a natural part of many people’s lives, it has also become important for companies to be available there, like in for instance Facebook and Twitter. People that are active in social media have more power now than before and as a company it should be considered important to be able to follow the discussions that people have freely online – it is a chance for the company to show its standpoint, but also an opportunity to get feedback on their brand strategy. To be available online as a company is especially important since social media has an impact on business and a positive sentiment online can lead to better sales results. It can be stated that a crisis is hard to avoid for a company – the important thing is how it is handled. As Findus have realized, discussions about a company in media causes it to take action and to work on reducing the damage that can be made on the brand – especially in these days, when social media can lead to a faster diffusion of a scandal like the one the food companies have experienced. A scandal does not automatically mean that a brand will be hurt, but tools like Internet and social media can definitely affect a crisis because of their many users and their fast spread. As even public figures have commented on the meat scandal and many people have turned to Findus Facebook page with their questions, it shows that being available online is crucial for a company like Findus in order to know what is said about it and to be able to answer questions from consumers. The impact that social media has in a crisis like this have also been understood by the company, since it has been working on both media and social media round-the-clock since the meat scandal was revealed.
It can be interesting to speculate whether the meat scandal that affected Findus, Nestlé and other companies in the food industry would have become this big if social media were not existing. Traditional media would still have reported about it, but the amount of people that would have received the news would maybe not be as many as they were today, with social media also being involved and part of the discussion.
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