If you have customers of any kind (and I heartily hope you have lots of many kinds), you are exposed to the risk of negative social media. Admittedly, there’s less chance of being the focus of a trolling Twitter storm if you’re shifting rolled steel across the country than if you’re hawking pop songs. But unless you’re engaged in a full-on monopoly, you have competition, and your brand is valuable. Protecting that brand is extremely important. It is also nearly impossible.
Take last week’s piling-on of Peloton, the maker of high-end stationary exercise bikes, which come with a screen and app that make it feel like you’re pounding through the mountains of New Zealand while you’re actually at a spin class. Prices start at $2,245, with a monthly app subscription of $39. During the last year or two, the brand has achieved enviable hipster-aspirational and woke-Wall Street élan, but last week saw a sudden and vitriolic reaction to its latest ad that caused the company’s stock to fall by more than 9% in a single day.
By the time this is published, this incident may have turned out to be just a storm in a virtual teacup. But I think this particular spat represents the beginning of a new and nastier era of online takedowns of commercial (and other) enterprises.
I have long watched and worried about the non-transparent and unregulated realm to which we are encouraged to trust our deepest sentiments and personal banking data. What’s new about this isn’t just that Peloton saw $942 million wiped from its market value, nor even that the reporting from respectable news outlets such as the BBC and CNN simply echoed the trolling.
It’s more that there’s no reason on earth that this couldn’t have represented a spectacular piece of corporate sabotage by a competitor or hostile nation state. The news media failed even to raise the question of where this sudden tsunami of vilification originated. Further, the hate wave was puzzling. I, for one, am a bona fide, fully paid-up feminist from a long line of feminists, and I saw absolutely nothing to object to in this ad. It wasn’t some overpaid celebrity in a fake political protest touting Pepsi. Free speech is free speech, of course. But the crafters of the First Amendment didn’t include any consideration of impenetrable anonymity.
My point is that, in the absence of meaningful regulation (and, indeed the enforcement of existing laws online), your company’s reputation is like Fay Wray tethered to a couple of megaliths in a jungle clearing, the night alive with gongs and torches. Maybe King Kong isn’t coming. But there’s nothing at all to stop him.
What to do? Until now, I’ve agreed with the received wisdom that you “don’t feed the trolls.” Ninety-nine times out of hundred, when one is actually unmasked, it turns out to be some drunk loser who thought it was all a laugh. But sometimes it’s really and truly sinister. Companies need to monitor and manage their online presence, and respond to attacks when appropriate. Some organizations, like Wendy’s, do this really well.
There was a weird, feverish time around five years back when every business, no matter what size, was persuaded that it absolutely had to get on social media. Why a 3PL or logistics management software company would have anything useful or entertaining to tweet every day, I have no idea. But if you do have a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and yes, even LinkedIn), I suggest you either take it down or else make sure someone is responsible for monitoring it carefully, to check for any looming 25-foot tall, angry simians. Even better, set a formal social media policy. It’s murky out there. Be careful. Hug your brand tight.
Helen Atkinson is a contributing writer to SupplyChainBrain.