Man vs Brand - The personification of brands through social media
Throughout the existence of free market economies, brands have had to monitor and manage how they relate to the public. But as we are all aware, that process has evolved exponentially through the emergence of social media.
Platforms like Twitter can literally give voice to a brand, allowing them to speak and respond directly to their consumer base. But are consumers ready, or even willing to communicate with a brand on the same terms we afford each other?
The KitchenAide brand has recently, albeit unwittingly, offered themselves up as an example of how a brand with a voice, can easily wind up with their foot in their mouth. If anyone hasn't heard yet, apparently one of the social media staffers working for this brand felt the need to tweet their personal feelings during the first televised US presidential debate of the year. Now that is of course their individual right to post their personal feelings, on their personal time, from their personal Twitter account. Unfortunately for all involved, that's not exactly how it went down, and considering the wildly offensive nature of said individual's personal feelings, it’s created a huge professional problem for the brand.
While the post in question doesn't necessarily include obscene language, it was offensive enough that I will simply include a link here, for educational purposes (smart people learn from their mistakes, successful people learn from the mistakes of others ;)
One tweet, 140 characters, has the power to potentially destroy a brand and everything they've created. KitchenAide's been in business for almost a hundred years; they have thousands of employees and are responsible for products that have made their way into the homes of millions of people around the world. But one little Tweet from one big twit is all it could take to possibly destroy that. It’s too early to tell how the brand will fare in the long term, but the immediate backlash has obviously been overwhelmingly negative.
So back to our main question, would there be the same level and scale of feedback had that comment been posted to a personal account as opposed to a brand’s?
If there’s even a question in our minds then we must look at why brands and individuals differ in the way they communicate and are perceived through social media? They’ve both opened the channels of two-way communication to the world, they both make the best of the same 140 characters on Twitter, so couldn’t they essentially be considered the same? They might very well seem to be in most regards, other than the consequences of course.
People make some pretty unwise and regrettable statements through social media. And don’t get me wrong, they suffer significant backlash and can of course cause lasting damage to their reputations and careers. But, I do believe that people get a much reduced sentence than a brand would, given the same offense. As they say, “to err is human…”
So what’s the big difference between Twitter accounts that have a profile picture of a logo versus a face?
Do our innate human instincts prevent us from truly personifying a brand and therefore treat it with the same regard we do our own kind? Does the inherent anonymity of brands make us see them as victimless targets for projecting our frustrations? Or could it even be that we are holding brands to a higher standard for not being bound by the constraints of the human condition, and therefore not deserving of our sympathy?
They have another saying, “we’re only human”. It’s been interesting to note in this modern world, how that statement has finally taken on a true significance. For this really is the first time we can communicate with the inanimate on a daily basis. As most iPhone users can attest, I honestly don’t think I would display the contempt and borderline hatred towards an actual individual trying to help me as I do to SIRI!
That’s why I was pleasantly impressed with KitchenAide’s initial response to their unfortunate Tweeting situation, "Hello, everyone. My name is Cynthia Soledad, and I am the head of the KitchenAid brand. I would like to personally apologize to President Barack Obama, his family and everyone on Twitter for the offensive tweet sent earlier". Considering the often ambiguous nature of social media and of course corporate responses as a whole, it was both refreshing and reassuring to see someone from the brand issue an apology by starting with her real name. Essentially shielding the logo with a face. That's potentially a costly move for the individual, but I also believe taking responsibility with a personal approach could help to diminish the inevitable onslaught of negative backlash towards the brand.
So which aspect of our humanity will prevail in this case? Will we accept her personal apology and extend that courtesy to the brand she represents, or will she be perceived merely as a puppet, fuelling the machine of dissent towards a brand that has slighted us?
Only time will tell whether or not the public is willing to forgive Cynthia and KitchenAide (as consumers never forget). So let’s make sure to keep watching, it shouldn't take long.