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[TrendTalk] Dear brands, stop stuffing up social!

Brands need to seriously get their social media act together. Last week went down as another week of #brandfails that could have been totally avoided with basic social media training, a social media strategy and an understanding of how powerful the mass consumer voice is in the face of perceived or real injustice.
It just says to me that the people who lead organisations and sign off on brand strategy are not active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the other places their consumers gather and their brands get talked about. Marketers spend millions on product and consumer research, yet not enough on really understanding digital marketing.

I know that is changing, but for true digital integration to happen, a mindshift also needs to take place. Really getting to know how social media works is about gaining experience personally too on social media, not just learning about it from textbooks or the gurus to steer your brand. You have to experience it to really know it.

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Apart from the trolls who feed off trouble, no one really wants to see anyone socially shamed for stupidity or ignorance. We know when a brand is targeted by mobs waving virtual pitchforks and burning torches, that inevitably, the poorly-skilled minions who have no decision-making powers will get disciplined or fired, not the guys at the top who should be accountable for lack of a coherent social media strategy or training.

The three cases that stood out in the South African market last week, and were voted as the biggest brand fails by SAfm's media and marketing show, in this order, were: 1. Virgin; 2. Bic SA; 3. Pick n Pay. And these are brands that spend millions on their marketing, advertising and communications campaigns in a year...

Seems rather idiotic and lacking in critical thinking to damage your brand reputation after all that hard work, money and creative thought from your multiple agencies, with a stupid social media post (or overreaction to an event), and which isn't even where your main spend goes and could have been avoided easily.

Social strategy

Social media campaigns take skill, craft and as much creative thought as any mainstream TV ad that you spend R3m on. Why? Because that is where your reputation gets damaged these days - or where loyalty can be created from new brand fans and new leads can be generated. Feedback is immediate and direct - it's what brands always wanted. That direct link to their consumers.

These are uncharted territories, like deep space. And while it may seem like an alien environment to many marketing and creative leaders, you can't just ignore it, because your consumers are there in increasing numbers, and this is the territory where your future consumers will settle (the Millennials and Generation Z). They won't be watching your TV ads unless they are brilliant and on YouTube and promoted via social media links; they won't be reading newspapers and your print ads unless the news is online, etc. They are mobile and video first and social media is where they gather.

Continue to ignore it at your peril, but it could be your brand next. And even if you decide not to play in this space at all, it makes no difference to your consumers. If they decide to talk about you - positively or negatively - they will. And brands and organisations have to have a social media strategy in place to deal with the reputation fallout when a brand is #bashtagged, and of course to create or maximise opportunities when they occur.

I'm told the savvy big brands have dozens of people standing by on Superbowl Sunday, for the Oscars, for major sporting events and even Presidential debates in the US, to create social capital or counter any commentaries that may not be favourable.

That is what great brands do. They are prepared 24/7 and aware of how to play in this space and be proactive. Not reactive. Aren't you tired of saying sorry?

TRENDAFRiCA is a trend watching portal on consumer insight, research and trends from South Africa and further afield on the continent of Africa. It includes DAiLY trends headlines from around the world, influential Trendspotter columnists and in-depth reports on industry segments. Louise Marsland is the founder and editor.
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About Louise Marsland

Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is Founder/Content Director: SOURCE Content Marketing Agency. Louise is a Writer, Publisher, Editor, Content Strategist, Content/Media Trainer. She has written about consumer trends, brands, branding, media, marketing and the advertising communications industry in SA and across Africa, for over 20 years, notably, as previous Africa Editor:; Editor: Bizcommunity Media/Marketing SA; Editor-in-Chief: AdVantage magazine; Editor: Marketing Mix magazine; Editor: Progressive Retailing magazine; Editor: BusinessBrief magazine; Editor: FMCG Files newsletter. Web:

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