With social media use the new norm, we’ve developed a hyper-connected culture, in which that what we do and that what we say is publicly broadcasted in a matter of seconds. Social media has opened a new world of opportunities, many of which should not be taken recklessly, considering the presence of such a mass audience.
Every day, millions of people log on to Twitter, Facebook, and other sites to check the latest news, see what their friends are up to, and check in with their favorite brands. These considerable numbers represent a public that is ever vigilant, always watching, listening, and sharing—evoking a new culture of social policing.
This summer, we saw a number of public apologies issued by businesses and celebrities, including Twilight heroine Kristen Stewart
, Olympic athlete Voula Papachristou
, online fashion retailer Celeb Boutique
, and even social network giant Twitter
. All of which attracted considerable controversy.
One example of a social apology done well is Southwest Airlines, which recently celebrated its 3 million Facebook “likes” by offering fans 50 percent off a round-trip flight using the promotion code LUV2LIKE. Due to an “error in the system,” customers were charged multiple times for the same flight.
Southwest quickly issued two transparent public apologies on its Facebook page on Aug. 4
and Aug. 5
, while the airline canceled all duplicate itineraries and provided constant updates to customers. Southwest’s timely crisis management efforts received major positive responses from the public, including this one from Sharon Belknap:
“My phone agent was great. I thought it was my impatience that created the 11 bookings. Her opening line to my query was, ‘did you book half a plane for yourself?’ We both laughed. Yes, used my debit card and there have been challenges with cash flow requiring quick thinking.
“But it’s ALL about quick thinking and getting back to creating a good life…and for that, Southwest has always been my wingman! Carry on!”
A recent report by the Christian Science Monitor
concluded that brands are apologizing more than ever. According to Dr. Aaron Lazare, author of “On Apology
,” the number of public apologies has tripled since the 1980s. Why are we now seeing such an increase in public displays of remorse? Is bad behavior on the rise or can this phenomenon be attributed to something else?
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide greater opportunities for companies, public figures, and average Joes to slight someone without intent. Even more damaging are the opportunities to share and spread those offenses. Remember, news travels fast, but bad news even faster.
People have an attraction to bad news, and that’s a fact
. “The human brain is more stimulated by the negative than the positive,” according to Dr. John T. Cacioppo of Ohio State University.
Put simply, bad news is more interesting. Celebrity tabloids and gossip magazines are considered the epitome of entertainment news. We love to hear about breakups, lawsuits, bankruptcies, and other forms of salacious news, which is why it’s so important for brands to be aware of our natural inclination to Schadenfreude
The public controls the Internet. It is in our human nature to enjoy seeing the diminution of successful figures, which is why those in the public eye must take extra care. Tweet responsibly, post sensibly, and remember that in the world of social media, your audience never sleeps. Brands need to understand that the customer is always on duty (a reality that I discussed in my speech on #SOcialpr: It’s Sink or Swim in the Age of Instant News
at the #140MTL conference this year).
The bottom line: Brands must engage and respond with proactive community management and with immediacy, and to every customer complaint and concern. This is essential to keep your community alive.
The suspicion that society is producing more bad apples than usual is probably not the case. Our ever-connected culture yields conditions where mistakes are caught quicker and more readily than in the past. To properly manage reputation and crises, transgressions must be properly acknowledged, which likely explains why public apologies appear as prominently, and as frequently, as they do today.
Social media has transformed the way brands communicate, behave and interact with their audiences. In this age of instant news, the prevalence of public apologies is merely a reminder that brands are now assigned a new high level of accountability brought on by the average social media user.
The citizen influencer’s constant watch is a reminder to brands that social media is a P2P—person to person—endeavor and must be treated with due respect and constant attention.
[RELATED: Do we apologize too much?]
Deborah Weinstein (@DebWeinstein) is co-founder, partner, and president of Strategic Objectives, an international award winning, full-service public relations agency headquartered in Toronto. A version of this story first appeared on Strategic Objectives’ blog.