Threats of Brand management in social media Why Strong Social Media Presence Magnifies Brand Weaknesses and How International Brand Managers Can Address This Part 1

January 15, 2015

Written by Jenni Väisänen

Nowadays, brand managers focus more and more on marketing online, due to the multiple opportunities it offers. However, to manage brands efficiently in social media settings, marketers need to understand the rules of their new marketing environment. This paper examines survival tactics of brand management in social media in the form of literature review. Based on Fournier and Avery’s article (2012) about the evident characteristics of social media and their impact on brand management practices, this paper discusses four factors, which can threaten brand management by magnifying their weaknesses, and ways to overcome them. The factors are characteristics and demands which have risen at the era of online marketing. They are 1) power of social collective, (2) entertaining parodies, (3) demand for transparency, and (4) constant criticism. Depending on the way these characteristics are addressed by brand managers, they can work either as an endorsement or threat to branding practices in social media.



Today, being present in social media is necessary for most companies, as it provides possibilities to connect and create relationships with various groups of stakeholders. Intensive use of Web 2.0 technologies in marketing pays off, as it has a remarkable impact on company reputation, profitability and market share, when properly implicated. (Bughin and Chui 2010; Kietzmann et al 2011) Because web 2.0 is regarded as a door-opener for two-way communication and information sharing (Filho and Tan 2009, cited in Akar and Topcu 2013), including it to the traditional marketing mix provides various new platforms for marketing activities (Winer 2009). Akar and Topcu (2013) define social media marketing simply as a tactic to promote both company and its brands via different social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter or Youtube.

Despite the opportunities social media marketing has to offer, brand managers need to realize that there is a thin red line between success and failure, when a brand is presented in social media. Rapidly spreading electronic word of mouth (Akar and Topcu 2013), powerful consumer activism within online communities (Cova and Pace 2006), and co-creation process of brand image (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012) do not run only with positive energy. If brand managers lack understanding of vital rules in the jungle of social media marketing, strong brand presence and visibility can turn into a threat for the brand. Negative brand reputation spreads fast in social media, which can have serious impact on sales and even survival of a company (Kietzmann et al 2011). As the prerequisite of social media is that it was created for people – not for marketers nor brands- companies should be aware that they are to walk on their toes in the online jungle. (Fournier and Avery 2011)

Fournier and Avery (2011) summarize four phenomena in social media, which brand managers ought to take into consideration when marketing online. They are (in other words than Fournier and Avery, 2012, presented) (1) power of social collective, (2) entertaining parodies, (3) demand for transparency, and (4) constant criticism. As social media has changed the landscape of marketing practices remarkably, resulting in “traditional” marketing techniques becoming invalid, it is important for companies to understand conditions of their new marketing environments (Awasthi, Sharma and Gulati 2012).  These phenomena, help to clarify the root causes of the benefits, without forgetting the threats, of having strong social media presence. (Fournier and Avery 2011)


Purpose of the study

The purpose of this paper is to understand, why social media as a marketing landscape is challenging for brand managers. The aim is to encourage learning from others’ mistakes, and discuss some ways to address the dilemmas. This paper is divided into two parts; in the first part, focus is to discuss the power of social collectives and parodies, whereas the second part concentrates on how companies should handle demands to be transparent and constant criticism.


Magnifying and managing brand weaknesses: need for belongingness and entertainment


Power of Social Collective 

Social media answers to peoples’ need of being accepted and feeling the sense of belongingness through its various communities, virtual friend-making and social bonding. By “liking” their friends’ updated statuses and “joining” different groups, people connect with each other conveniently. Online communities offer a place for like-minded people to share their opinions, photos and experiences, which enhances the feeling of belongingness. (Fournier and Avery 2011) Picture 1 below demonstrates, how many people Nike reaches via Facebook.

Nike Facebok coverpage, with 16,508,118 "likes".

Nike Facebok coverpage, with 16,508,118 "likes".

Picture 1: Nike social media –Facebook (Nike 2014)


Marketers have traditionally been able to bring brands and their messages to the awareness of consumers, possessing full control over the message, but social media has changed this. Today, managers are creating their brands together with consumers by sharing experiences and opinions. Because this new type of branding process is dependent on consumers’ opinions and perceptions of the brand image, managers need not only to listen carefully what their customers are saying, but also engage consumers into the co-creation of their brands. This two-way communication has changed the ideology of branding online completely. (Corstjens and Umblijs 2012; Fournier and Avery 2011; Singh and Sonnenburg 2012) 

The fact that consumers may connect different characteristics to a brand than the previous owner, brand manager, can cause problems to the company and threaten the brand image (Fournier and Avery 2011, Corstjens and Umbljis 2012). Singh and Sonnenburg (2012) suggest that instead of trying to control the brand message too much, brand managers should concentrate on guiding consumers’ comments to support and endorse the original brand-story. According to Singh and Sonnenburg (2012), some corner stones of the new way of brand management are to switch focus to the process instead of the output and understand the role of “tension” in brand-creation.


Switch focus to the process, not to the output

As the core idea is to co-create brand-stories together with consumers, they need to be encouraged to participate into the process. Brand managers need to accept that brand image will be affected by different kinds of experiences and stories shared by individual consumers, which, in other words, means that there is no “one storyline” or “one image” of a brand. What brand managers can and should try, is to guide shared comments to reflect the desired brand concept. This can be done by e.g. engaging, provoking and seeding. Engaging can be done by encouraging different opinions and by challenging new stories, whereas provoking by addressing emotional topics for discussion. Seeding is a tactic to encourage co-creation in multiple social media platforms (Shau, Muñiz, and Arnould 2009). Additionally, brand managers should provide a suitable social media platform for consumer-discussions. (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012)


Realize the role of “tension” in branding

In order to activate consumers to participate in branding, marketers must provide tension to the story. Tension as a concept has been divided into three categories: internal, personal and external. Internal tension rises from the need to look into the mirror and identify oneself, whereas personal tension lies in the differences between people. By external tension, the issues between people and their environment, nature and even supernatural, are brought up to discussion. When holistically practiced, all sources of tension are discussed in a brand co-creation process. Hence, tension is the driving force to generate consumers’ emotional engagement to the brand story. (McKee 1998, in Singh and Sonnenburg 2012) Below, in Picture 2 it is visible how Ben&Jerry’s Icecream creates tension at their Facebook site: they promote well-being of cows and ask, which flavour their consumers prefer on “Belly laugh day”.

Ben&Jerry's ice-cream highlighting the importance of happy cows and asking flavour preferences, i.e. creating tension.

Ben&Jerry's ice-cream highlighting the importance of happy cows and asking flavour preferences, i.e. creating tension.

Picture 2: Ben&Jerry’s social media -Facebook (Ben&Jerry’s 2014)

The curse of co-creation is that it makes branding uncontrolled: if consumer societies’ opinions collide with brand’s mission or values, solving the emerging problems can be challenging. (Fournier and Avery 2011) A good example of a mismatch between consumers’ and brand managers’ perceptions of a brand is Frito-Lay’s: brand managers enhanced environmentally-friendly values in product development, whereas consumers considered “convenience” as a more important factor. The brand had to give up its ecological packaging material in order to meet customer wants: a package with less-rasping sounds. (Brady 2010, cited in Fournier and Avery 2011)

Entertaining parodies

Yet parodies about brands are not a new invention, spoofing has emerged as a form of entertainment in social media. Parodies about different brands and advertisements have become normal in different social media platforms, such as Youtube. Previously parodies were distributed mainly by professionals, but nowadays anyone can entertain others in social media. In general, brands and advertisements offer a variety of themes to make fun of. (Fournier and Avery 2011)

The Dove Beauty 'Sketches' ad has been parodied in terms of men's face. Sketches are completely different as men see themselves as more attractive than they are.

The Dove Beauty 'Sketches' ad has been parodied in terms of men's face. Sketches are completely different as men see themselves as more attractive than they are.

Picture 3: Dove sketches parody –men. (Adweek 2013)

When consumers use parody in order to attack a brand and in order to humiliate it, it is time for brand managers to get restless. Rude parodies concerning the core values and positioning can be particularly damaging for any brand. (Fournier and Avery 2011) After Dove’s Real Beauty campaign was launched, some parodies were uploaded into Youtube. They were made about men, with the same idea as “sketches”-video: men were drawn on the basis of their description about themselves, and then, on the basis of another person’s description. The descriptions concerned, depending on the spoof, their faces or their testicles. (AdhocVids 2013; Irakli Kopaliani 2013) Pictures 3 and 4 demonstrate the two parodies.

The Dove Beauty 'Sketches' ad has been parodied to put testicles front and center.

The Dove Beauty 'Sketches' ad has been parodied to put testicles front and center.

 Picture 4: Dove sketches parody –testicles. (Ma, 2013)

    Be fun if you can –and if not, know your audience

If the brand identity supports the idea of being funny, some marketers themselves can use the idea of silliness and implement “parody” as a selling tactic before consumers do. Indeed, there are some brands who sell by being funny, such as Blendtec. Even though the idea of a kitchen blender is not entertaining, commercials made it funny by blending almost anything. (Fournier and Avery 2011) However, if the brand image does not convert into a funny story, brand managers should realize that their online marketing activities can reach anyone. Even though target group is defined, social media allows other people, who do not even consume the product, share their point-of-views and therefore, have an impact on the co-creation of the brand. (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012)


Demand for transparency and constant criticism are discussed in part 2.