When brands get it wrong, the first place customers go to air their grievances is social. Social media offers the consumer a simple and direct connection to the once elusive brand, and if you air your grievances publicly, you're almost guaranteed a timely response. Until you start breaking "the rules" that is.
The rules vary from brand to brand but tend to include a list of stuff you shouldn’t engage with, like swearing, racism, sexism and harassment. These rules are not shared with the online community, but breaking them will often result in your post being removed or hidden from view.
Of course, I’m not condoning any of the isms but deleting someone’s voice because you don’t like what they have to say reeks of censorship, and chucking someone out of your group for violating unwritten rules is a bit like serving time for breaking a law that was never in the book. Yet we do it time and time again, in fact, 88.7% of brands simply delete hateful comments and move on, and it’s our silence that makes us complicit.
As the experts, we play gatekeeper to some of the most influential accounts in the digital community, and we must do better ; but how can we improve? We’re operating in uncharted territory, in a time where the line between free speech and hate speech is becoming increasingly blurred, and opinion matters more than ever — particularly for brands. So, to find out more I popped over to We Are Social HQ to listen to a panel discuss how both brands and agencies can #BraveTheBacklash. It quickly became apparent that our role in fighting online hate is an essential one.
Consider the role of your Community Manager. They are likely a junior member of staff, or a freelancer, or someone who has never received the information required to respond to the multi-platform shitstorm your brand is now facing around plastics, Halal certification, job losses, the EU, or the truth about the bloody moon landing in 1969 — yet they are expected to be all knowledgeable. Your intern just became the face of a global brand, and in 2018 it isn’t acceptable for them to panic, hide the offending comment and block its author. We need to work more closely with brands, platforms, and (dare I say it) the government to develop an approach that enables us to be the guardians of the space that pays our wages. Panellist, Kate Dale quite rightly said: “If you build the playground, you have a responsibility for the safety of those who play there.”
And we are building more than a playground. We’re stakeholders in the construction of a vast digital landscape and for the narrative to change we need to play fair. One recommendation from the panel was to include ‘House Rules’; another suggested going against one of our worst best practices and (heaven forbid) engaging with the haters. Of course, this can open brands up to abuse, but as The Boiler Room’s Stephen Mai pointed out “the responses aren’t for the troll, the responses are for the people that are being attacked.” And the people who are being attacked are our customers and potential customers.
The problem is that too often, and for too long, we have blamed the issues faced in the social landscape on the brands, the trolls, the algorithms, and the Tories, without considering what our role is in the prevention of online hate. We create “diverse” content because we know that diversity sells, however, our brands are reluctant to see that conversation through in social and, it would appear, we don’t have the integrity to hold them to account for that.
We’re lucky enough to be at the forefront of an industry where the rules remain unwritten, and it’s time to change the narrative. Can we create an environment where brands become the implementers of integrity in an online world so synonymous with hate? We’re in the perfect position to lead the revolution, but as they say at Advertising Anonymous, the first step is admitting it. So, take a deep breath and say out loud “I work in social and I’ve absolutely fucked it”. I’ll go first…