United, Pepsi & Russia…Is Social Media the New Democracy?

2017. The Year of the Scandal.

Firstly, we had potential Russian influence in the American election. This then developed into several key government officials having apparent ties to the Russian government.

Secondly, Pepsi pulled its multi-million dollar marketing campaign featuring Kendall Jenner after a public backlash. The campaign was accused of hijacking momentum from the #BlackLivesMatter campaign to push the agenda for a beverage which has in no way, shape or form any vested interest in the benefit of humanity.

Finally – we witnessed United receive an onslaught of negative press yesterday for escorting a man off the plane with unnecessary use of force to free up space for United employees on an overbooked flight.

I am not seeking to comment on each of the above issues – but instead want to draw your attention to something which unites them all – social media.

The Discovery

In all three incidents above; the problems were discovered primarily through social means. The Pepsi campaign was responded to primarily via Twitter, the United campaign went viral via a Twitter video and the Russian hacking scandal reached the convention media through various back channel outlets including tweets from Anonymous and Wikileaks.

The Contagion

When something trends on a social platform, views don’t tend to increase – they tend to explode. What initially developed as a spark of outrage quickly develops into a fast burning fire of descent. All of the above incidents did not take 24-48 hours to make the news – they took a matter of minutes. The way in which this information can proliferate and then make it onto more conventional channels continues to highlight the way in which social has risen to replace the mass media as the source for modern day journalism.

The Response

The public reply to these issues escalates with users promoting the content which resonates with them the most- causing the companies involved to cater their response accordingly in real time.

In a sense – social media functions as a digital quasi-democracy; allowing the opinions with the most public support to prevail out of an online exchange of ideas. Thus, some might argue that social is now functioning as a check and balance for the actions of corporations.

From a corporate perspective – I feel that companies need to adopt a pro-active rather than a re-active approach when it comes to their social strategy. I think that typically once the time has been taken to sit back and figure out the most strategic move – the damage has already been done. Furthermore the typical response of doing a public announcement from a CEO – lacks the sincerity and authenticity of responding to each user individually on a social channel.

Thus in my mind – I think firms should be evolving in two ways – the first is that they should be thoroughly testing any publicity ideas with broad test audiences prior to the public launch of a campaign to mitigate any damage privately before a wider release. Secondly – companies should be using software to monitor social media for any emerging trends on the back of their material and to use such data to respond quickly and effectively before the incidents become out of hand.

Is Social Media Truly Democratic?

Despite my points above – I think this is ultimately a difficult question to answer.

One overarching theme is that it is impossible to dismiss the involvement of corporations in using financing, strategic planning and man power to influence social campaigns both in their favor and against other brands. In an online world where identities are increasingly difficult to resolve – what’s not to say that there isn’t more to the equation than meets the eye? Potentially there are other forces at play in many of the pivotal social events we see online today.

Furthermore – I find that often the internet is not the truest representation of societal ethics. Take for example the old adage, “Sex Sells.” Many socially viral campaigns, music videos and posts often include sexually provocative content. This historically has a high level of engagement but in the eyes of many – isn’t indicative of base level values that we seek to promote in our children and in proper society. What may be alarming – is that critics argue that these values are increasingly being eroded to the point that this online engagement may actually be a more accurate depiction of the true values in society- something I would like your comment on below.

Finally – I feel that sometimes firms may consider “any press to be good press.” Often these campaigns when taken in a negative light end up resulting in brand awareness many times greater than the softer, positive messages could ever hope to achieve. The smartest strategists can spin events into something positive. A recently example of this was recently executed well by the Amazon team who used a recent outage to point to the fact that they had only had less than 2 hours of downtime in many years prior – resulting in what I think a net strategic win for the company.

Do you feel social media is an accurate representation of societal views? Do you think we could see a completely digital online democracy in the future? What are your thoughts – please share them in the comments below

About The Author

Dailius Wilson

Dailius Wilson is the 24 year old founder of WolfofYorkStreet.com – helping the world's top SaaS companies to optimise their sales and marketing efforts. Dailius is currently a Director at TrustRadius and a digital blogger at increasemyonlinebusiness.com. Dailius was named as one of the Top 30 Entrepreneurs in Australia for 2015 by Anthill Online and was ranked in the Top 100 SEO Experts in the World. Dailius has also been a guest on the Ellen Degeneres Show and has over 10,000,000 views on Youtube