Written by: Caifeng Bai
The evolution of consumer power in the web 2.0 era has completely changed the game of communicating with consumers in the virtual world. Moreover, brands are facing threats in the new dimension, due to negative e-WOM (online word-of-mouth) and online anti-brand communities. In this article, we examine the origin of consumer power shift, anti-brand community formation and mechanism, accordingly, recommendations in relation to managing online anti-brand attacks are provided to give managers a practical playbook.
Key words: Social Media, E-WOM, Anti-brand, Risk Management, Communication
The Evolution Of Consumer Power In The Web 2.0 era
In the old-time Web 1.0, companies enjoyed a pretty comfortable position in communicating their brand messages to different stakeholders, like professionals, publications, and customers etc. However, all of these have been changed due to evolution of consumers empowered by emergence of the social network. Labrecque, vor dem Esche, Mathwick, Novak and Hofacker (2013) suggest that increased active participation of consumers and Internet-enabled networked interconnectedness resulted in bigger consumer power in the web 2.0 era. This community-based consumer power has demanded shift of brand communication from informing to facilitating. Brands are losing part of the control on their communication to their customers. Being adapted to the digital connected world seems to be the only way to walk abreast of your consumers. These days search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are far from enough, brands need to be on social media, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and interact with their customers. Creating interactions and having moments with your customers provides both opportunities and threads in the virtual world, to some extend that social network marketing has made traditional advertising tactics obsolete.
Your Brands Are Under Attack On Social Media!
Facebook is the world's most popular media platform that creates no content. Its user generated content in relation to brand image could have an significant impact on building a brand, conversely, ruining a brand. Customers trust themselves more than they trust the brands. A negative consumer review of your product or your brand is way more powerful than the promotional messages sent by the brand manager. In this case, an average customer is considered one of us, by the social community. Whereas the established brand, unfortunately, is often considered as the avatar of an evil capital. Social media, have captured greater market share and attention among all types of consumers and global brands. A product or service being talked about has a material impact on brands in today's world. "According to ComScore, 84 percent of European Internet users belong to at least one social network, and the number of visitors to social networking sites is growing by the month, reports Nielsen"(Armelini,& VillanuevA, 2007, p.2).
Is it enough for brands just to be on social media, use it like any other marketing tools?
Sadly, the answer is negative! As mentioned earlier, the Internet has enabled consumers gained control of user-to-user communication bypassing the official channels of the brands. The power shift has made consumers from anti-brand communities strongest ever in fighting against branding activities. Here we are to say, there is a growing resistance to international brands and corporate globalization. According to Hollenbeck and Zinkhan (2010), it is not surprised to see anti-Wal-Mart, anti-McDonald's, and anti-Starbuck's online communities formed, as a reaction against capitalism, e.g. consumers can initiate online protest, opposing global brands and expressing concerns about corporate practices related to environmental and human rights issue.
How Is Online Anti-brand Community Formed And How Does It Work?
In the twenty-first century, many consumers view corporations as "dominating and oppressive by means of imbalanced distribution systems or deceitful marketing tactics" (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2006, p.479). According to Hollenbeck and Zinkhan (2006), under globalization circumstance, corporations are perceived to act as cultural authority to dictate consumers' values, tastes, and preferences through sophisticated promotional techniques. In most cases, a virtual anti-brand community is built around common social and political interests. Anti-brand communities are visionary, creating "voluntary simplicity" (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2006, p.482) among members to encourage freedom and expression based on individual choice. The communities provide new identities and resources for constructing a desired self-image and achieving personal goals. Through advising and supporting each another, members develop close bonding relationship with one another, in consequence, they are acting together in supporting and/or condemning corporate practices through influencing individual purchase decision. These communities are part of the social activities that associated with anti-globalization movement.
The social activities against brand dictatorship referred to by Holt (2002) as the anti-brand movement, the anti-brand movement is similar to former social movements with some unique characteristics. First, the anti-brand movement represents some collective ideas, for example, the issues prominent in the anti-brand movement range from concerns about corporate practices related to environmental and human rights issue. Second, the Internet plays a significant role in the anti-brand movement because it provides communication methods for individuals around the world to overcome geographical space and time zones limitations. Today social movements are moving from physical places into virtual space, which sets the stage for new forms of protestation and enable anti-brand communities to spread in unprecedented numbers.
How Should Brands Manage Online Anti-brand Attacks?
No company would like to face hostile anti-brand attacks online, therefore, it is important to manage your online reputation carefully and strategically. According to Hennig-Thurau, Hofacker, and Bloching (2013), social media communication, in the era of Web 2.0, is like playing the pinball game- it is almost impossible to identify touch points with your consumers. To win the game, or at least to protect your brand identity from serious damage, brands should consider the following steps:
1. Work With Social Media Experts
The fact that most social media platforms are free does not mean that your communication strategy will be free. Social media works more like a pinball, compared to the other traditional marketing channels. In reality, e-WOM requires a sustained commitment of time and manpower to monitor, analyze social media content. Even in a globalized and connected world as today, not many traditional marketers are capable of providing competitive edge to the firms when it come to social media marketing. Brands need to work with social media experts, who have a enhanced "playbook" (Barwise & Meehan, 2010) on creating sustainable interaction and tackling the brand-hostile blaze in the virtual world. Working with professional agency is great if you want to quickly gain an upper hand in the all-social world. Professional agencies have followed and studied the development, since the social media has been introduced, thus they understand well its impacts and diffusion mechanism. As a consequence, they are able to involve the customers into the development of the desired brand while also steering away from those anti-brand storms on social media.
2. Be Transparent And Responsive On Social Media
On Social Media, as Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) point out that companies are merely participating as a guest, who do not have the rights nor the possibility to alter the content that is being accessible to millions of people. A company can use social media to start conversations or build brand awareness, but the results are much more difficult to predict or control by the company. Despite that fact that negative comments travel faster than positive ones, brands shall still strive to keep the conversation transparent and responsive. Whenever there is a negative review on social media, companies can always response timely to show the customer, and the rest of the world, they are there to help the customer through the problem. By doing so, companies can mitigate or eliminate any negative impression, potentially, increase the trust among the consumers. Brands cannot delete negative user-generated comments, but what they can do is to response in a timely manner so help build "positive brand association" (Hays, 2015) for the customers.
3. Understand Your Protesters
In the case of your brand becomes the target of an-brand community, Company leaders must remain calm and study the nature and the scope of the protestation. Before a company is even able to react it has to identify the source of the crisis and relevant stakeholders, the reason behind the crisis, and so on. This is where the social media monitoring becomes relevant, as it enables companies to react quickly in protecting their brand images and brand identities. First of all, the brand manager shall check the level of damage. If the threat has very limited impacts, engaging in such conversation will only raise the awareness of anti-brand activists' objectives. However, if a company believes that certain demands pose a threat to its business, important strategies regarding how to respond shall be considered and sign off by the management team. Furey and Horvitz (2015) point out that it is difficult to contain an attack once it achieves critical mass, therefore, a company's objective should be to minimize the chances of such an attack, implement an online monitoring plan, and immediately contain an attack as soon as it materializes.
4. Embrace Negative Feedbacks
Hays (2015) suggests that even negative feedback can be good for business, because this means an opportunity to make a business better - wether it is a product, service, operational process or even marketing content, provided the negative feedbacks are monitored and dealt properly. Gap, Inc. shared at the 2014 Bazaarvoice Summit on how negative reviews can help identify issues with the fit, quality and material of specific items, allowing them to make adjustments in production. This example shows how a brand can gain consumer insights through embracing negative online feedbacks. An intelligent product owner shall utilize the generated content to get into consumers' mind, in order to develop successful future marketing strategies.
Overall, your online communication strategy should be to constantly prevent conflicts from escalating. No matter you are communicating with the press, responding on social media, or interacting with customers, it is all about sending out a signal saying we care and we are interested in the best solution. If all parties seem to be working together towards a common goal, the agitation appears to be unnecessary. Online brand reputation just as leadership,ultimately, the reputation needed to be earned through heard work and strategies.
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Furey, Jennifer., & Horvitz, Matthew P. (2015). Containment and mitigation: Managing the online brand or reputation attack, available online: http://www.insidecounsel.com/2015/09/28/containment-and-mitigation-managing-the-online-bra?slreturn=1455976905 [Accessed 17 February 2016]
Hays, Amy. (2015). Five Ways to Ethically Manage a Brand's Online Reputation, available online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-hayes/five-ways-to-ethically-ma_b_6940128.html [Accessed 17 February 2016]
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