After writing about Pantene last weekend, I also happened to notice some possible social media missteps by Yash Raj Films’ youth film division, Y Films, where they called a film critic ‘idiot’. On Twitter, in full public glare.

One of the aftermaths of writing about Pantene, questioning their credibility when they concocted that interview on behalf of Naina Redhu, was to face some criticism about how I was over-reacting and that brands should be given the time and benefit-of-doubt to either rectify or apologize for their missteps, online or offline.

Two Twitterfolk put forward their thoughts, in this regard, very efficiently – Girish Mallya and Nomad Wanderer. The arguments were similar and made solid sense. Sample these.

writg to brands for quicker response is fine. Tweet directly to them. But putting handle in the middle of the tweet n rantg is dfrnt (Link)

most just RT without verifying claims, details, anytime a friend or known person does a rant. N flame things. Responsibilty? (Link)

ya but most of these Twitter celeb are well placed, bright ppl n from industry (am excl. Sub 30 celebs here), responsibilty? (Link)

drop of a hat quite a few of us vent/campaign on SM, without writing to brand first and giving a fair chance to remedy (Link)

I am hoping someone writes about misuse or potential misuse of SM by vigilante SM ppl n how brands are very vulnerable. (Link)

We need to give brands a good chance to respond/remedy. Brands are so vulnerable on SM, its scary. (Link)

And we have a typical twitter over reaction. Beating up brands for the smallest mistake is identical to A&Co approach to solve things. #fail (Link)

Twitter has made celebrities of everyone. Take a breather people most of us are just ‘ somebody who is too afraid to be nobody’ (Link)

Given that it is plain old logic – venting annoyance does not help the cause in specific; brands make mistakes too – no point over-reacting; everybody, including brands, should be given a meaningful chance to rectify – I agree with this line of thought. I may have said something very similar in my ‘Whine Flu‘ post too. The crux of that post was simply this: when you vent in public that perhaps shows your intent in bringing disrepute to that brand than to get your issue resolved. Going to them first seeking a resolution is a better way to address your issue and then go public if things don’t work out, in the hope that public venting may get the brand to see your side of the plot (hopefully, the right one!).

And then Y Film’s Idiot Imbroglio happened, yesterday. Here’s an animated screenshot of the conversation that happened, though some Twitterfolk also allege that Mihir Fadnavis, the film critic in question also abused the film, via more tweets and has removed them now. Technically, those would be besides the point, in my opinion and I’d explain why.

Here’s another take on the same issue – on Miss Malini’s blog.

So, here are a few thoughts to explain my stand on this issue of brands being bashed up online, via social media.

1. At the outset, one of the main reasons why many brand managers still hesitate to invest big in social media is, ‘Social media? What kind of numbers are we talking about? Let internet access improve in India…then we’ll up the budgets. Right now, let’s cross-promote our TVC on Facebook with a few weekly status updates to keep our fans interested’. In this scenario, it is interesting to note those social media numbers don’t figure in a discussion on brands being bashed. As someone in PR, I know it does, but not necessarily in marketing divisions – but more possibly in PR divisions. That famed internal organizational silo comes to the fore, here – marketing is more bothered about brand visibility, while PR is more bothered about the impact of that visibility.

2. One of the persistent arguments from Girish was that social media stardom comes with great responsibility and that people who are seemingly popular on social media should not over-react and use their popularity with caution.

Now, let me dissect that argument to the best of my knowledge.

A journalist uses his opinions through a medium he/she does not own – the publication or TV channels he/she works at. He’s dependent on that vehicle for sharing his views. So, his responsibility has a reining mechanism, at least in principle. Compared to that, a social media celebrity (allegedly!) uses his/her own vehicle to communicate views. So they could be irresponsible since there is no reining mechanism. That sounds perfect, on paper. But I’d also wonder how that celebrity built his vehicle in the first place – if it was based on sharing his views through a social media tool, I’d also assume that he’s essentially responsible to his readers/viewers. And that they will stay with him as long he continues to make sense. If he misleads them intentionally or seemingly misuses them, I believe that’s a matter between him and his readers – if he’s supremely convincing in his biased miscommunication, he’s perhaps as effective as a politician making false promises and winning votes. Good for him, in the short run, but like how we expect justice to prevail, in case of politicians (the ‘bad’ ones!) – eventually – it may, when enough of his readers see a hole and start questioning it. But, expecting social media stars to exercise restraint – because that is the ‘right’ thing to do – seems far-fetched. Even if it sounds existential, ‘right’ is nothing but one point of view, among many.

3. With regard to the specific Naina Vs. Pantene issue, I’d like to believe that it is not a personal issue between Naina and Pantene, the brand. It may, at a smaller level, be about not having a clear understanding about how the deal works (for Naina, as a brand ambassador), but this is very different from the point of my Whine Flu post. There it was predominantly about deficient service/product by a brand…all happening between a brand and you, as a customer. So, it made logical sense to use the same one-to-one communication mode to resolve any issues.

When Pantene went public with the print ad. (I saw the Tamil translated version too, in a Tamil weekly last week, besides on India Today), I’d assume that the lines of one-to-one communication have been adequately breached. There are 3 parties involved now – Pantene, Naina and the public, which has seen the ads. Would the public know that the interview is entirely fictional? (whether they care if it was fictional or real is a completely different topic!) I’d guess not. Not until the so-called affected party, Naina, makes it known. If this was 1990, she may not have any avenue to do so – perhaps she can write a letter to a daily newspaper in the hope that they will help her publicize her cause. But this is 2011 and we have social media (sigh! I know!). So, she tweeted about it with the intention of portraying who she really is, from her point of view. Right or wrong is a subjective, endless debate, but given that public was already dragged into the equation when the ad. went on print in India Today, I’d assume that it is appropriate that they (the public) be made aware if there are alleged inconsistencies in the ad; particularly those that affect an individual quoted in the ad. Yes, the public that Naina addresses via Twitter is not even a fraction of what it could be, if you compare it to India Today’s (and all other publications where the ad appeared) reach, but public is public, regardless of numbers.

4. I work with brands, so I can completely understand the line of thought that seeks to be cautious before bashing brands (any brand) online. In fact, I wrote a post about brands that we would and should avoid dissing online, in public – not because it is politically correct and will save us from getting fired, but because it’d be stupid if we do. I believe we all have a set of brands about which we won’t say anything wrong unless we’re absolutely pushed to the edge by the brand – this list not only includes that brands that we work with or work in, but also those brands where our friends, peers and family work. We save the bashing for assorted reasons – to not get fired; not annoy a friend; not to put an ex-collegue/friend in a tough situation etc. When no such connections exist, we go and bash – with or without logic. Quite human, I’d say.

5. On the Y Films mess via Twitter, I was engaged in a spirited defense of Y Films by a few folks on Twitter. They had one common base for their argument – Mihir Fadnavis, the film critic, abused the film Mujhse Fraandship Karoge,  based just on a promo. He called it names, allegedly. As a response, Y Films came up with this killer!

My argument was and is the same. Y Films is not one person; it represents and organization. Mihir Fadnavis is not an organization; he is just one person. When I pointed this out, I was given 2 points as responses – that this point is grossly wrong moral high ground and that it is a very unhealthy perspective. It may seem so, but I’d like to point to the obviousness of it all, here. Y Films exists to make movies that people would eventually end up watching – hopefully. Y Films exists to make money, from people. One of those people happen to be Mihir Fadnavis. So, when Y Films (not the person behind the Twitter account – the entire organization) calls an individual an ‘idiot’ for sharing his opinion about their film’s promo (however abusive or unjust or pointless or mindless that opinion is), it merely looks like they are calling a person from the public an ‘idiot’ for passing judgement on their film’s promo.

To this, I was given, ‘But Mihir gets his trolls together and starts bombarding the handle with vindictive tweets’ as a counter argument. I understand, but then the basic point is that these are opinions – not facts. As I love saying, the trouble with opinions is that everybody has them! They are influenced and impacted by many, many things, including personal biases, which no brand can do anything about, unless they sit and address the root cause of why such opinions happen in the first place.

Here, I’d love to use the Whine Flu, one-to-one communication example to seek a resolution. If Y Films had a problem with Mihir passing his opinion based on a film’s promo, the most logical way is to address it with Mihir’s editor at the publication where he writes his reviews. But even here, they need to exercise caution, like the way they have to, if they were to treat this as a legal case of loss of reputation – the onus will be on Y Films to prove the loss of reputation as a result of Mihir’s opinion and also the impact of any such loss of reputation. If the impact is in the minds of the film’s producers and makers, I’m afraid that may not hold up in any argument.

And a note on ‘trolls’. Not everybody who disagrees with you is a troll. Definition-wise, troll is ‘someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community’. Some of the people who I had a debate with, on Y Films’ issue put forward fairly sane arguments – I’d not call them trolls at all. I’d love to engage in such arguments as long as they stay on topic, with no abusive language or emotional points with no logic.

6. Consider an imaginary example. If a political party, on Twitter or Facebook calls someone a ‘fool’ for voting for another party. If a member of that party goes seeking vote from a constituency, and people from that area are aware of his party’s outburst online, they may not be in a mood to differentiate party’s stand and this individual’s stand. They may perhaps look at it as the party’s viewpoint in general. That is bound to impact this individual’s ability to gain people’s confidence too. Use this example to understand the Y Films case better.

7. On a parting note, brands on social media need to understand one thing very clearly – they are not dealing with a one-to-one or one-to-many communication mode. They are in a many-to-many communication mode. An example of one-to-one would be email, which is also possible via social media; an example of one-to-many would a Facebook status update (a simple broadcast) – again, possible via social media. But what eventually happens is a many-to-many, where it is not between ‘a’ brand and its audiences – it is between audiences and audiences, to be clear.

So, a brand says something online, many people can latch on to that point of view – agree or disagree, all in full public glare. On the other side, many people can respond to that point of view, again in full public glare. Brands need to prepare the language and tone of their social media communication to take this into account and not just assume that it is a one-to-many broadcast, like in the case of the highly emotional intern (assuming!) who was in charge of Y Films on Twitter. That went on in full force till it seemed like a senior, with some sense, reined upon the intern and posted an apology.



13 thoughts on “Brand bashing by social media stars – a perspective

  1. Karthik,
    Let me share a different perspective here. A brand has a positioning, it has a character. Especially when it comes to an interactive medium like Social Media. 

    You want to live that character via your profile. 

    So a bank may still come out on Social Media, and stay professional and very propah! 

    Whereas an MTV or a Channel V will be cool and use a certain casual approach. 

    A film is also a brand. So can we say that ‘how the hell can the Delhi Belly brand spew such abuse’?? 

    It was that abuse and that character which was disliked by some oldies (maybe ‘detested’?) and yet, it was the same abuse that connected with the TG it was trying to reach. And made them look cool. 

    Is Y Films perhaps doing the same? Sure, by calling someone an idiot, they would get their flaks from some of the twitterati. But maybe it endeared their youth audience. Who’d feel that “idiots who don’t get our generation must be told in so many words”?? 

    If that was the case, then they are bang on target, I’d say.

    Just trying to see a different point of view here.. ? 

    1. Excellent point – I did consider the ‘character’ angle here. But I was surprised when they apologized instead of capitalizing on the ‘attitude’ displayed before that apology – in fact, they were seen fighting and pulling down a lot of people who had dissed that film’s promo. If it was indeed a ‘character’ driven Twitter feed, I’d have expected them to stay on character…like MTV usually does.

  2. Nice post. I believe the assumption here is that brand is always wrong. What about people who are unreasonable and threaten a brand to agree to their conditions just because they have “influential friends” on Social media?

    The Brand can definitely put across their side of the story, but then it becomes the victim of prejudice, the mob and objectivity goes out of the window.

    I believe Girish puts it very nicely in his tweet – “most just RT without verifying claims, details, anytime a friend or known person does a rant. N flame things. Responsibility?”

    Is there a way to check these “celebs” who act irresponsibly, use their influence for undue benefits? I think No. 🙂

    1. There are 2 things here – one, what is the impact of a so-called celebrity’s rant; two, is that celeb addressing the brand, via social media…or his readers/public? If the latter, then we could start suspecting the intentions, but only based on the weight of his/her argument.

  3. Woah! That was a long post! I have 2 points to make here:

    1. You are only vindictive/negative online when you have nothing to lose. Brands unfortunately will always be in the firing line because they are constantly looking to build relationships on weak foundations. They will be killed at the slightest drop of wrong-doing.

    Would Naina have reacted this way if she was working for Pantene instead? I think not. Her reaction is justified cuz she has nothing to lose.

    2. About Y Films tweeting this way – its their strategy. To be Raw. To shock. They get free publicity and mind space by being so.

    1. Err, could I point you to point no. 4, again? I was pointing out precisely to that and I don’t see anything wrong with that – we have our own list of brands that we will not touch and the rest is open for any kind of bashing. It is completely normal, human behavior.

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