Are brands being held at ransom by Social Media Influencers?

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Social media presence has come to prominence off late and we’ve seen a lot of emphasis being laid on how social media can be leveraged. The person who has mastered the art of engaging on social media and can boast of a followership is called an ‘influencer’. If we were to put numbers, one can say that Influencers are people who have more than 5000 followers on Twitter, more than a thousand subscribers on Facebook and perhaps an equal number on Quora. A sure shot sign to identify one is to see if s/he regularly asks questions on Twitter which if asked on the omniscient Google, would surely elicit a reply.

TV has also been aware of this growing trend and we’ve even seen ads promoting the notion of having a high social quotient. Influencers are helpful in a way to have an online policing system in place for brands. Telecom operators for one have been kept under the scanner to resolve customer issues quickly. But as Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility” and this is where we see sometimes the influencers crossing the line. Sometimes.

Mekin Maheshwari, the CTO at Flipkart recently articulated this well in a tweet of his:

Another incident saw an influencer cribbing about ‘a’ fly in his vicinity at a Cafe. Yes, restaurants/cafes should be hygienic but even Six Sigma allows 3.4 (on a million) defects! There are some things you can’t eliminate and that’s when brands shouldn’t try to please everyone. It is important for brands to be uniform and stand by their ideals.

Ankita Gaba, founder at SocialSamosa has 19k+ followers on Twitter and she agrees with the fact that brands are afraid of having the negative word spread about them and give it their all to cover up on social media. She also mentions that influencers or for that matter anybody these days makes sure to be verbal about their discomfort with the brands on social media. “I don't think someone will outright go ahead and purposefully blame the brand in expectation of something. And even if they did it would be really hard to point out a misuse,” she thinks about influencers misusing social media clout.

There have been occasions when brands have been caught off guard like in the case with Vishal Gondal, founder of IndiaGames, an investor and a social media influencer. Vishal has more than 22k followers on Twitter and 12k subscribers on Facebook. His Audi was taken for a 159km ride by the ‘service center’ in Mumbai in the middle of the night only to later find out via Vishal’s tweet that the car had a GPS installed which gave him real time updates. Audi had to pay dearly because as soon as Vishal had tweeted and put up a post on Facebook, the news had spread like wildfire. Audi took 3 hours to respond on Twitter and by this time the damage had already been done. Surely not a case of misuse, this leads one to think though. Do influencers or just about anyone go on ranting on social media against a brand?

Looking from the influencer’s perspective, yes, they’ve worked for it. You don’t get a following on social media overnight but where does one draw the line? Does s/he have to think twice before they post anything? Is it also their responsibility to see that they don’t harm the brand’s image without a valid reason? Rudhir Sharan, the founder at SecPanel is a tech geek and has more than 12k followers on Twitter. He confesses that he does think twice before tweeting. “Yes, if I did not have 12500 followers, I would tweet differently.” Brands scurry to please the influencers so that their image online is clean. But a growing trend will see more people pelt stones online for their own advantage because the brands will acquiesce.

Prasant Naidu of LightHouse Insights, a popular blog covering social media in India says, “The whole social media influence is a hyped thing all over the world. Initially people thought that getting 5000-plus following on Twitter really makes them a star and brands also bought this myth. With time the myth has started fading and people with 1000 following hold substance. The reason being we are moving to interest based things so even if you have 1000 following but you are a wild life photographer you still hold the influence.”

Prashant agrees there are social media celebrities who are defiling a brand because of their influence. These are the new challenges that modern day brands will be facing and it’ll be really critical as to how they handle such situations. Ignoring them and doing the best you can may not always be the right solution. Because too many people will ask questions and you’ll eventually have to submit and give an explanation. Prashant has a valid point-of-view. “As we know it doesn't takes much time to trend on Twitter these days but I had seen strong opinions and sarcasm from influencers who stretched the matter too far. I think one should not forget that social power is because of your fans and it doesn't take much of an effort to unfollow someone,” he says.

Here are certain points that you, as a brand might want to think through:

  • Have your own standards and stand by them
  • Do not involve yourself with a combat online with an individual, take it over a phone
  • Apologize when in fault but not otherwise. Customer is god but sometimes even gods turn crazy.
  • Be uniform in your communication, don't have different responses for the same query.

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