Brands have always had their detractors. Anti-establishment voices have railed against the power and reach of large corporate entities for a very long time.
Lately, detractors’ voices are being “heard” on reclaimed large-scale billboards, signs and posters across the world in an attempt to challenge the authority and legitimacy of the mass communication advertising industry. These acts of subtle sabotage also simultaneously make broad claims about the brands that bought the space. These kinds of public forum protests have been dubbed Brandalism:
Some attack product quality:
Others attack business practices:
And some attack the brand itself:
The defining feature of “Brandalism” is the use of a brand’s own marketing channels against the brand itself, much like how viruses transform our own cells into virus-producing factories to infest the body.
Despite the increasing frequency of these acts, brands lived with or ignored the destruction of their posters and billboards, knowing that these isolated incidents would only be seen by a relative few and thus, have limited impact on their brand. But now something new is happening.
Brandalism @ Scale
The revolution in social and mobile technology has equipped brands with an unprecedented platform for direct access to consumers. At the same time it has afforded anti-establishment voices with the right set of skills an unprecedented opportunity to publicly humiliate brands and spread their messages. These attacks, when successful, are unique, in that, not only can they instantly reach a larger audience than any billboard or poster ever could, but they also reach a hyper targeted set of opt-in subscribers of the brand.
In other words, “Brandalism” used to be an artisanal craft, limited to an artisanal crowd, but now it has gone global. What we’re witnessing now is what I call, “Brandalism @ Scale”
The @BurgerKing Fiasco
This is exactly what happened to Burger King on February 18th, when their Twitter handle was “Brandalized” by the hacker group Anonymous, in retaliation for traces of horse meat found in beef patties sourced from several UK companies.
Anonymous assumed control of Burger King’s Twitter feed, put up a McDonald’s logo and background, and informed the world that they “just got sold to McDonalds because the whopper flopped” (sic).
They also attacked Jeep’s Twitter account the next day in a similar fashion, telling Jeep’s followers that it was sold to Cadillac.
And while some have argued that this hack might have been good for Burger King, citing increased follower and mention numbers, as well as the oft-mentioned adage, “There’s no such thing as bad advertising”, I think many of them didn’t see the bigger picture.
Most analysts of the Burger King incident focused on the graph below, where @BurgerKing mentions skyrocketed from 152 on February 17th to 175,697, a 115,500% increase, on February 18th, the day of the hack.
But the graph that many others haven’t seen is this one, where @McDonalds mentions went through the roof from 1,385 to 30,076, a 2,072% increase, during the same time period.
Most interesting of all, 1 out of every 4 of those @BurgerKing mentions on February 18th also mentioned either “@Mcdonalds” or “McDonalds”:
In other words, the @BurgerKing fiasco actually helped its biggest rival not only substantially increase engagement out of no effort of its own, but also propagated hundreds of thousands of Golden Arch image impressions to a user base with a self-identified interest in Burger King, not to mention fast food, in general.
The audiences for both brands also grew significantly. @BurgerKing gained 30,000 Twitter followers in one day, but @McDonalds didn’t do too bad either, gaining 5,500 followers that day, and generally acting pretty classy about the ordeal:
In the end, I’d venture to say that Anonymous actually handed McDonald’s, one of the top 50 brands in the world, a victory in this whole fiasco. I highly doubt that was the outcome they were were hoping for when the plan for this anti-brand attack was hatched.
Brandalism @ Scale…for Justice?
The mass audience the hackers briefly had access to during this incident, would make any traditional “Brandalists” jealous. But it’s also interesting to consider WHY Burger King was attacked. What we’re seeing is that the brand was “brandalized” not necessarily because their ads were boring, dumb or interruptive, but rather because people wanted justice.
In this case, Burger King originally stressed that its patties were 100% beef, and that they had no connection to the ongoing U.K. equine meat scandal. But later the brand made this statement:
“Our independent DNA test results on product taken from restaurants were negative for any equine DNA. However, four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA. Within the last 36 hours, we have established that Silvercrest used a small percentage of beef imported from a non-approved supplier in Poland. They promised to deliver 100% British and Irish beef patties and have not done so. This is a clear violation of our specifications, and we have terminated our relationship with them.”
This reversal put Burger King squarely in the sights of upset activists everywhere. Combine this realization with a motivated hacker group and an unsecure Twitter account, and the result was inevitable.
When the “mass of communicators” believe that justice has not been served, that is when they step in, in one form or the other, to deliver it. If brands are perceived to act fairly, then their greatest ally is the “mass of communicators”. If brands act dishonestly or unfairly, they are exposed to very significant brand risks like they have never seen before.
Preventing Brandalism @ Scale
The best way to prevent Brandalism for your organization is to be a good and responsible company.
But what does being a good and responsible company mean?
According to Umair Haque, the director of the Havas Media Labs, the company responsible for the Meaningful Brands Survey, and Harvard Business Review blogger who writes frequently on how business can create real value, it is about focusing on outcomes, not outputs. For example:
Did this brand make you fitter, wiser, smarter, closer?
Did it improve your personal outcomes?
Did it improve your community outcomes?
Did it pollute the environment?
Did this brand impact your life in a tangible, lasting, and positive way?”
A brand that creates this type of experience for its constituents is much less likely to be the subject of a mass reputation threat. Not only that, but a brand that creates this type of experience for its constituents will find it easier to engage with its customers, as the relationships they create will be based on shared values, the reason which 64% of customers cite as the primary reason they have brand relationships. Especially during a time when marketing professionals worldwide cite “engaging the customer” as their #1 challenge last year, crafting a brand that represents those values just makes the job that much easier:
And according to Bain and Company, the benefits of engaging the customer via social media is apparent:
“Companies that engage with their customer via social media have more loyal fans, and the customers that engage with brands online “report spending 20% to 40% more on that brand, or on that company’s products”.
In addition, according to the Meaningful Brands Survey “more than half (51%) of consumers want to reward responsible companies by shopping there and 53% would pay a 10% premium for products from a responsible company.”
Therefore, brands should focus then on transparency, fairness, and honesty in their communications. In doing so they will foster advocacy and inoculate themselves to some degree to the kind of “Brandalism” that Burger King, Jeep and others have suffered.
It also helps to have a secure Twitter password.
“The world is now trying to connect with us via social media. But there are millions of them and only a few of us.” – Dion Hinchcliffe, Chief Strategy Officer of Dachis Group
If getting the most fans was your objective during the initial phase of social business, you got what you wished for. If the promise of social media was the opportunity to engage in 1:1 dialogue with all of these fans, congratulations, you’ve got it in spades.
Of course, you want to grow while honoring the spirit of engaging in genuine 1:1 dialogue. But how are you going to do it when huge social crowds form around each and every one of your talented team members every time they engage, and hiring more of them becomes prohibitively expensive? It’s extremely difficult to justify any extra investment in social without showing tangible business outcomes. The Catch-22 is that you can only show tangible business outcomes when you can efficiently scale, which you can’t do internally until you can show tangible business outcomes.
Dachis Group enables Engagement@Scale by measurably activating a large passionate group of individuals to act on behalf of your brand: your advocates.
Simply put, you can unlock the business benefits of social by leveraging the passion of advocates – their expertise and their reputation. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Tact, Grace & Planning
First of all, to successfully leverage advocates to help you engage, you must do it with tact, grace and careful planning.
Why? Because advocate effectiveness is intrinsically tied to the way they are perceived by friends and strangers. Advocates must maintain their unbiased independence and passion to be effective. That’s why 92% of people trust recommendations from advocates they know and 70% of them even trust recommendations from advocates they don’t know.
Therefore, to tactfully, gracefully and carefully leverage advocates for your brand you must leverage them without undermining the perception, among those who trust and rely on them, that they are independent, unbiased and passionate. If you try to cheat by leveraging advocates in any way that damages their perception in the eyes of their social and influence graph, it is a surefire way to failure.
Leveraging advocates is hard, not easy. Unleashing their power for the benefit of your brand is earned, not taken. And brands that take shortcuts will suffer their wrath, in the form of quiet dismissal, at best, and rabid negativity at worst.
How to Leverage Advocates in the Correct Way
As mentioned before, leveraging advocates in the correct way requires that brands ensure the independence, objectivity, and passion of their advocates through tact, grace and planning.
Great in theory, but how do you do that in practice?
Maintaining Advocate Independence
The definition of independence in this sense has less to do with the fact that advocates are in a relationship with your brand, but rather with the level of autonomy the advocate maintains while in the relationship.
To maintain the perception–and reality!– that these advocates are independent partners, you must cede control to them. This doesn’t mean releasing them into the wild while hoping that they don’t cause more trouble for your brand than they solve. It means creating a mutually beneficial relationship based on trust and accountability, where they feel that they have total control over their actions while simultaneously holding themselves, and being held, accountable to certain guidelines.
Building Trust & Accountability
In order to build the trust and accountability necessary to cede control, you must be: transparent, sincere, present, respectful, and open to feedback, while setting boundaries and keeping your promises.
Be Transparent and Sincere: You must be completely transparent about the nature of the relationship and completely sincere about why you want to get the advocate(s) involved in it. This involves giving them guidelines, procedures, and training on how the relationship is structured, how it works and what is expected of them. This also involves informing the public that this relationship exists, what its purpose is and how the relationship is structured and works, in clear, unambiguous language. It’s also the law.
Be Present, Respectful and Open to Feedback: Relationships take time to nurture, so don’t create an advocate relationship and assume that the relationship will continue to be healthy without constant nurturing. Be present with your advocates and give them constant attention. By being present, you also show them that you are respectful of their time. This involves setting up regular meetings with them where your team is always present, feedback is exchanged, and they are made to feel like a valuable part of the team.
Set Boundaries and Keep Your Promises: Follow through on promises that you made at the beginning of the relationship, but also make it absolutely clear what is unacceptable behavior, based on the guidelines and procedures distributed, and act if inappropriate behaviors are exhibited. This involves constantly monitoring their behavior, as well as yours, to ensure that you’re both keeping up your ends of the bargain, and ending some relationships, if necessary, to show not only that you take it seriously, but also to reward those that are doing things right.
Maintaining Advocate Objectivity
It’s tempting to think that once you’ve built a solid relationship with your advocates, that they will necessarily be unbiased actors on behalf of your brand, but there is a major risk to doing this successfully: rewards. Once you begin motivating advocates through rewards bias becomes a more significant problem.
The worst case scenario is if you recruit the best advocates, build trust and accountability, cede control, and ultimately, fail, because your reward system caused them to become more passionate about the reward than about your brand. In other words, you’ve biased them because your reward system was set up incorrectly.
The secret is to reward advocates in ways that empower their motivations, but don’t alter or derail them. Therefore, focus on intrinsic rewards to guide them as opposed to using external rewards. Behaviors guided by intrinsic rewards tend to be stronger and longer lasting than behavior guided by external rewards.
Keep in mind, however, that even though you’re “guiding” them, you truly want them to change their behavior, just not too much so that their behavior becomes increasingly driven by the pursuit of the reward rather than by passionate personal desire. Psychologists even have a name for this: The Overjustification Effect.
Therefore, motivate them with non-monetary rewards that are tied to the accomplishment of a larger goal or to a better connection to a community, which, largely cannot be bought. While this initially sounds great because it sounds like it’s free, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Non-monetary rewards involve the investment of time, money and effort to give recognition, access, and a sense of community. So while you don’t pay them directly, you do have to make an investment.
To further ensure that the advocate’s motivations aren’t altered throughout this process, always make sure to remind them constantly that the content of their opinion is what is valued, rather than whether the opinion itself is positive or negative.
Maintaining Advocate Passion
Now that you’ve built trust and accountability, ceded control, and did everything you could to ensure their unbiased opinion, it’s now time to let their passion burn bright and get out of the way.
The secret to leveraging passionate advocates is to find ones that are already passionate. And the best way to find them is by discovering those who naturally talk about your brand, in a positive way, for an extended period of time. By using this criteria, you not only discover who your natural advocates are–as opposed to those who sporadically mention your brand during a time period you examine–but what kind of advocates they are.
An excellent tool to help you find who those advocates are and what they do is Advocate Insight, a part of our suite of products. If you are looking to learn more about your advocates, this can be a powerful way to start. Find out more by signing up for a 1:1 demonstration of the product.
Engagement@scale is the key to effective brand marketing in social media, but no one would claim it is easy. You do have advocates out there though and you can start to scale the quality and reach of your engagement today by working with them. You just need to get started. Let us know if you’d like some help.