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Current Trend: Power to the people

The role of the individual has always been debated in economics. Is the market independent of individual's thoughts, actions and feelings? The theories of economic sociology support the idea that the market does not function independently of people's emotions, culture, politics and a million and one other influencers, rather than a base desire to merely consume.

So how does this relate to the use of social media in business?

In short, the consumer has regained control of the market. They now control the dialogue and conversations surrounding businesses and consumer products and services, and by that I mean they ensure that conversations and dialogue in social media remain completely transparent. Businesses and large corporations no longer have ultimate control of their brand reputation. Advertising and other forms of controlled and crafted messages directed at consumers have lost a lot of their impact. Online conversations about a service or product are where people go to source unbiased information and make their consumer choices.

In research conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Tealeaf that looks at the social customer and the powerful effect they have on a brand's reputation 51% said social media has influenced their transactions and 74% said when they read a negative comment online it influenced their likelihood to do business with the company. Further to that 56% avoided a particular vendor after reading bad reviews, but 52% used a particular vendor after reading good reviews. As a point of interest when sharing experiences on social networks and blogs, 33% would like to get a vendor response (

So what does this mean for businesses?

It means that not only is it an option to give your business a presence in the online realm of social media, but it is essential! It is now imperative for businesses to monitor, listen and actively engage in dialogue 'out there' about their brand, products and services. People will listen to bad reviews as seen in the above statistics, and people will be encouraged by positive feedback.

There is no doubt social media is making businesses, governments and corporations more accountable. Looking at the social media campaigns of NGO's offers an insight into this enforced social responsibility and accountability that is evolving. The Greenpeace driven Nestle backlash was a prime example of this.
Boycott BP - Current Trends

Members of the public took to social media sites to criticise the confectionery giant, following reports that it was continuing to source palm oil from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian company accused of illegal deforestation of rainforests.

Greenpeace gained consumer interest by posting an online video that featured an office worker accidently biting into an orangutan finger instead of a Kit Kat. The video aimed to draw attention to the NGO's ongoing battle with Nestle over its supply chain.

The criticism has also spilled over on to Twitter, with users Tweeting Nestle's Facebook page and encouraging people to go on to see the comments posted online.

Another example is the recent BP oil spill saga. This has direct comparisons to the Nestle backlash with "Boycott BP' pages popping up all over social media networks such as Facebook.

So how do businesses and brands combat this potential negative social media backlash? It's all about strategy. When formulating a social media strategy it is often about a pre-emptive attack, for lack of a better term. Social media strategies need to incorporate timely responses to negative feedback and a monitoring of all dialogue surrounding the business. Social media and consumer participation, applied in the right way and at the right time, will not just help your brand, but are absolutely crucial to its survival and evolution.

In positive terms, social media is also a form of accessible market research with relevant demographics. It enables businesses to gain accurate customer feedback, and can be a valuable insight when it comes to future product development.

Businesses must remember... the truth is out there.

By Gill Asbury | @gillasbury