Social media and business don’t always go hand-in-hand. That’s obviously unfortunate, because social media is such an indelible part of a modern marketing strategy.
If you’re lucky, you’ll never confront direct contradictions between your business interests and your social media strategy. But the larger your presence becomes – both online and within your industry – the harder it will be to avoid tough questions about where your priorities lie.
There’s no shortage of real-world examples to show you what this challenge might look like. A number of them have arisen in recent months, focused around the same issue. In one of the latest examples, DC Comics’ social media apparently removed a post over allegations from Chinese users that Batman was being used to represent support for Hong Kong protesters.
The decision yielded predictable backlash, as we’d already seen in response to apparent moves by the NBA and Blizzard Games to appease the Chinese market. Eventually, the Hong Kong crisis will be resolved and these decisions will be a thing of the past. But they point to a larger truth about social media and business: An online presence gives customers new opportunities to examine your company’s values.
Looking at it purely from a financial perspective, it’s understandable that multinational companies would want to avoid upsetting China. It’s a market with over a billion potential customers. But long-term access to that market may come with short-term losses as a result of boycotts by socially conscious consumers in the West.
Presumably, companies like DC Comics are taking the backlash into account when making decisions related to China. But what’s less clear is whether they appreciate the bigger picture where social media and business is concerned. If other, similar scandals emerge in the future, the same social media users will surely know about them, and it could begin to tarnish the brand’s image even more than a boycott would.
This may be an especially relevant problem for media and entertainment companies like DC and Blizzard. If Twitter and Facebook start to spread the message that they are taking the side of authoritarian regimes over pro-democracy protesters, people might start to question the content those companies are putting out. If there’s ample evidence that the company is privileging profits over closely-held values, consumers can be expected to wonder whether that message is leaking into their comics and games.
Zooming out from there, consumers might also raise larger questions about the relationship between corporate social media and business ethics. If a company’s online posts reflect different values than its actual business decisions, the Twittersphere is sure to highlight the hypocrisy. The public relations impact could be worse than just quietly putting money ahead of defined values, and steering clear of social media so it can’t contradict you.
But the potential conflict between social media and business doesn’t diminish the importance of a social media marketing campaign. It only demonstrates that you need to communicate a set of corporate values to your social media company and make sure it consistently affirms those values on every platform. But if profits are more important than anything else, don’t present your company as ethical or socially engaged. You won’t like the inevitable backlash.