A very thought-provoking question was asked to me recently from an online friend of mine, @allierambles. Allie asked:
“Do you ever wonder if companies would intentionally start a negative campaign? I mean it gets people talking and we tend to not forget, like the McDonald’s case. Do you think they would risk that?”
(Now, just to be clear, Allie was referring to the recent social media crisis McDonald’s found themselves, unintentionally faced with. It was widely spoken about, trended on Twitter and became a very memorable event in many of our minds. She was not stipulating that McDonald’s intentionally started this crisis – in fact, there are many indications that they definitely did not… but that will be for another post!)
So, the question remains, would a brand intentionally attempt to start their own social media crisis?
Seeing as most people tend to fear the prospect of a crisis (and the fact that this would be very radical behavior), I would have to say, for the most part, probably not. But it did get me wondering. Seeing as it’s said that no press is bad press, would some companies try to leverage and profit from the bad?
And from this, came another thought: Would some companies attempt to launch their competitors into an online crisis, so that they can leverage it and come out the heroes themselves? Perhaps this is a more probable scenario, but still not exceedingly likely.
To be honest, my first reaction to both of these questions was “probably”. My thinking here was that the world is made up of so many different types of people, minds, scenarios… Odds are, somebody, somewhere would think that potentially, one of these could be a good idea.
Now, as much as I may believe it to be a possibility, I also think that it is rather unlikely for this notion to realistically be acted upon, for one simple reason:
It probably wouldn’t work
You’d have to be a mastermind to plot a crisis that looks (and continues to look) so real that it creates havoc. You’d also have to be clairvoyant in order to be able to plot a crisis that is just big enough to create some buzz, but not too big that you lose control. In today’s world of social media, transparency, online advocacy and authenticity, it would be very difficult to pull the wool over an entire audience’s eyes and not have the truth emerge – some way, some how.
Aside from this, it risks the possibility of being an incredibly stupid notion to attempt.
Social media crises tend to pick up a whole momentum of their own. They could go a short distance, or they could go viral. They could have a lasting and damaging impact on your brand, or they could be short lived and easily forgotten. It would be very risky business to attempt to create one and ride it as a publicity stunt. Very risky business indeed!
But then again, I suppose some people find great thrill from risk!
Still, the potential damages do outbid the possibility for advantages, in my opinion anyway. Being discovered in this situation would result in:
- Instantaneous distrust from your customers and the public
- A plunge in shares and/or brand credibility
- A major lesson for others to learn from – what NOT to do
Sure the company would go down in some type of history (so I suppose to some degree, the mission would be successful). Blogs would be written, an example of exactly what not to do would be made – over and over again. And the attempt at the stunt would not be soon forgotten by the public – and neither would their distrust, the mockery they were made of, or the sour taste left on their tongues in regards to the brand.
So creating a social media crisis on purpose?
We’re talking some serious, loss of control, loss of brand credibility, risky business. But the question remains, would it be a risk some companies would potentially be willing to take? What situation would a company need to be in, in order to put their entire reputation on the line, in order to gain some free publicity – especially when that free publicity is of the negative variety?
What do you think? Do you think some companies would, or perhaps have, tried to create their own social media crisis? And if so, do you think the publicity would be worth the risk? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments section below!
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