It’s time to embrace a new kind of brand transparency

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I recently read a blog post about a Starbucks social media campaign that went awry (click here to read the full story). In short, it talks about the campaign being hijacked by a film maker that had been working on an anti-Starbucks film that features employees and argues that the company has unfair labour practices.

This got me thinking about brands. The traditional brand model has undergone a massive step change. Because of social media and the move towards having ‘conversations’ online, companies can no longer talk ‘at’ their audience and instead have to talk ‘with’ them. This of course means they can no longer hide behind their brand. They need to be real and they need to be transparent. Deliver what they say they will. Be who they say they are. Otherwise negative comments will fly across the net. A risk no company wants to take.

We know not everybody is a brand advocate. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. But whether a company engages in conversation with people that take issue with them or not, these people will still have their say, particularly online. I’ve spoken to a few people about this who argue that by engaging in conversation with disgruntled clients or customers we’re encouraging negative feedback. I say no way! These conversations will go on whether you’re in them or not. So surely it makes sense to be IN them from the beginning? To be transparent in any dealings with negative feedback? To be seen as a brand that responds in a positive, proactive way to consumers or clients? To learn from it and turn it around?

Brands can no longer make like an ostrich and hide their heads in the sand. They need to get involved, use any negative comment as an opportunity and deal with it. Social media, and in particular Twitter, is a really useful tool for handling this. Many forward thinking companies have already introduced customer service profiles that focus entirely on dealing with negative comments found on the web. The bonus here is that while these companies are dealing with any issues they come across (in a positive way of course), the rest of the world looks on. That’s a pretty powerful message right there.

Of course, this new model gives more control to the consumer or client, which is a scary prospect. But it’s where we’re heading and companies that embrace this are the ones that will succeed.


For those conscious souls ready to step up and serve. Suitable for established or new coaches.

  1. Diane Fox-Hill says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The traditional brand model of ‘we’ll talk’ and ‘they’ll listen’ is increasingly outdated. Sure, you CAN keep doing it that way, but don’t be surprised if competitors start better conversations with people while traditionalists twiddle with their brand onion.

    Co-creation is where it’s at.

    The crunch, loss of trust in large institutions, the belief by people that they are in charge of their own destiny….all these things add up, and brands need to CONFIRM, not DENY that individuals have the right to make their own decisions.

    Brands need to look forward. People’s needs change over time, so does technology and we should all help create the future we want. Ignoring social media or hanging on to outdated branding models just won’t cut it.

    Personally I am increasingly looking at Twitter as a topic AND a resource. It seems apparent to me that brands need to shake things up, lose the cliches and get back to being ‘real’. Let’s face it, people can’t get enough of the authentic right now, and why do we think that is? Just a random trend? No, of course not. It’s built out of insecurity, limitless choice and limitless distrust. People have less time than ever for brands that talk AT them rather than TO them. People are salving themselves right now by ODing on the real. So brands should embrace this, be real, be hyper-real even and engage back.

    Hmmm I seem to be on a rant but it’s no time to stick heads in sand. Engage.

  2. I think of social media as a kind of heaven and hell for brands- if your’e dull and evasive you die, if your’e generous and open you’ll live and grow, its ultimately all about reputation and people’s attitude towards you- in this new twittocracy there’s no hiding place..

  3. @ashley goodall : I agree with you about half-measures. This is why I might say that not every company should use social media. Nevertheless, as individuals gain power and influence, brands and companies will surely be talked on Twitter, on blogs and other social platforms.

    The smartest decision to make is to keep evolving and wowing stakeholders.

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