What keeps company chieftains up at night?
Financial risks, of course, but also risks to their companies’ reputations, Mark Raines told tourism marketing professionals last week at the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.
“This study was by what sounds like a reputable bunch, the Harvard Business School,” said Raines, vice president and director of public relations of the Little Rock advertising firm CJRW. “One eye-opening result for me was that 73 percent of CEOs said that after financial risk, reputation risk is what causes them to lose sleep. And Wall Street analysts are now saying that company reputation has become an important factor in market value. For instance, would you want to buy United Airlines right now? Would you want to buy Sears right now? Some guy did, but he must have some deep pockets. Reputation is a big thing.”
Raines and two colleagues led a presentation members of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau as part of a mini-seminar on social media and brand management, and United and Sears were easy examples.
United, whose overbooking situation had led to a passenger being dragged bleeding from a plane, felt the immediate wrath that can come from today’s social media. Then the airline mishandled the situation with two days of quibbling before offering a full apology.
“That thing was viral before the guy was even completely dragged out of the plane,” Raines said. “It was out there. Companies have to be aware of situations that could go viral virtually before they have a chance to react.”
Sears told investors its management had doubts about the company’s viability as a “going concern.” Then the retailer issued a news release to affirm that it is, indeed, a going concern. By then, Sears shares had plunged nearly 10 percent.
Raines said that marketers must be responsible users of social media, both personally and professionally. He urged the audience not to take their cue from the nation’s tweeter in chief, President Donald J. Trump, who posted a tweet describing Arianna Huffington as so unattractive “inside and out” that her husband made the correct decision in leaving her for a man. Trump “broke all the rules on social media, every one of them, and he was elected president of the United States. He got away with it; you can’t.”
Raines was joined by Elizabeth Michael, the firm’s director of content and social strategy, and Dan Sawyer, vice president and director of special events.
The CJRW team’s advice to tourism promoters boiled down to three maxims:
- Think before you hit send.
- Social media is forever.
- Facebook is still king.
“You have to stop and consider consequences before you post,” Raines said. “You can delete a tweet or a post almost immediately, but somebody will have a screen shot of it or will be able to find it later.”
As for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network commanded, along with Google, about 99 percent of advertising growth in the third quarter of 2016, according to figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and public numbers from Google and Facebook.
Michael, speaking on “advancing your brand,” told marketers that Facebook “is king of all social media,” basking in a “golden era of Facebook advertising.” Approaching 2 billion active users, Facebook had $3.4 billion in ad revenue in the third quarter of 2016, up from $2.1 billion. All competitors other than Google had a combined $4.7 billion in revenue, and growth of only $40 million.
Raines emphasized that companies and their employees must be constantly vigilant on social media to avoid damaging content. “It is difficult, but it’s much easier to protect your organization’s reputation than it is to repair it.”
As one example, Raines offered a tweet from the Home Depot account promoting a college football broadcast it was sponsoring. Two black men playing drums on empty paint pails flanked another man wearing a gorilla mask. The Home Depot employee who devised the tweet and the outside agency that handled the account were both fired, and Home Depot was ridiculed and reviled across the internet for insensitivity at best and racism at worst.
“When an employee posts on social media, he or she is representing the company,” Raines said. “You have to consider, what would my boss think? What would my mom think? What would my children think. Employees are always ambassadors for the companies they work for, whether their posts are professional or personal.”
Pam Jones, a former CJRW vice president and former director of the Pine Bluff Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that “tone deaf” has become the 2017 buzzword in advertising. She urged company leaders to stress employee training and to constantly promote diversity.
“The issue is bigger than a buzzword,” said Jones, president and lead strategist for Culturally Connected Communications of Little Rock. “It’s a lack of cultural awareness in the C-Suite. As companies develop their marketing strategies they need to evaluate their workforce concerning diversity and inclusion, and actively seek input through every stage.”
She said being sorry isn’t enough.
“Go deeper with your apology and explain the steps your company will take to ensure that an offensive tweet, post or campaign won’t happen again,” she said. “Address the offensive material head-on. Don’t shy away from it.”