Social media has rapidly emerged as a key marketing channel that many companies are now taking advantage of due to the ability to engage directly with consumers in ways never before possible through ‘traditional’ means. But what happens when social media is used to target action against brands that may not even have a presence in social media?
Such a situation emerged recently in Australia where around 70 advertisers supporting controversial radio broadcaster, Alan Jones, were called upon through social media to withdraw advertising support for Jones’ program following his distasteful remarks about Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
Spearheaded by feminist action group ‘Destroy The Joint’ and a petition on Change.org, the campaign targeting Jones’ advertisers attracted thousands of supporters, many taking direct action against advertisers, such as posting on their Facebook pages, Tweeting and emailing company representatives with requests to cease all advertising support of Jones.
Advertisers large and small were targeted by the campaign, from local retailers to global giants such as Mercedes Benz, the latter forced to ‘re-possess’ Jones’ personal Mercedes Benz car, provided as part of the sponsorship package. Some advertisers reported being so inundated with calls and emails as to make it almost impossible to conduct business as usual.
Flooded by hundreds of complaints and enormous social media pressure, advertisers began to drop like flies. So much so, Jones’ network, Radio 2GB, operated by Macquarie Radio Network, took the unprecedented move of withdrawing all advertising from Jones’ program, reportedly costing the network AUD$80,000 per day in revenue. At the time of writing, all advertising is still suspended, costing Macquarie hundreds of thousands, and growing daily.
According to a story in The Australian newspaper, Macquarie Radio Network chairman, Russell Tate indicated that boards are not well prepared to cope with social media crisis.
No doubt drawing on his experiences from the recent Jones’ saga, Tate’s comments point to an interesting, and possibly hazardous, demographic issue. The fact is, most board members of major companies are typically older, more experienced executives who may not have a good grasp of social media and its risks. Such industry heavy weights are more accustomed to dealing with mergers and acquisitions than they are ‘Likes’ and ‘Tweets’, the latter simply being a foreign language to most.
The decision by Macquarie’s board to withdraw advertising at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars as a direct result of enormous social media pressure should send a clear message to senior executives and board members everywhere: Social media can seriously impact the bottom line and as such, it must be taken seriously.
More progressive companies, where the seriousness of social media is understood at the very highest levels, are already incorporating it into their broader organizational risk management strategies. In fact, attend any major risk management conference today and you’ll find social media a key topic of conversation.
The bottom line is that if boards are to provide direction to companies in times of crisis, then they must understand the crisis itself, including the contribution that social media can have on starting and escalating it.