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Social medial crises are on the rise in the recent past. The crises have impacted negatively on corporate public relation activities which call for a focus on how best the company can protect itself from the consequences (Owyang, 2011). A case to note as an example involves Nestle Company which recently was confronted by a public relation issues from its activities in the social media (Fantis, 2010).
Nestle posted a comment on its facebook wall in relation to the usage of its logo by its fans. In this post that seemed innocent, the company requested its fan not to use the company’s logo that had been altered, on their profile pictures. Failure to adhere to this would have led to the deletion of the comments posted by the fans.
This was followed by the reaction by a fan who sought to stop the company from dictating on what they wished to do. However the company reacted by claiming their ownership of the intellectual property and gave the fan the choice to leave the fan page if he so desired insisting that the rule they set must be followed.
The responses by Nestlé’s facebook public relations staffs to comments posted by fans on their wall either expressed sarcasm or antagonism. This created negative feelings in some of their customers some of whom decided to keep away from the company’s products. Here the company failed to see the positive side of alteration of the company logo and instead took it as an intellectual property robbery (Broida, 2010).
The main public relations problem arose from the company responses which went against the public relations principle on customers’ insult by the company. This was also against one of their principles which sought to portray the company as customer minded with its success underpinned on professionalism, good conduct and management and employees’ responsible attitude.
These aside Nestle also was on the spot light for sourcing Sinar Mas palm oil used for various products like kit Kat. The source of problem here arose from the amount of emissions of carbon dioxide gas which had negative effects on humans and animals alike. This was followed by the upload of a video clip by Greenpeace in the internet which was supposed to be an international campaign against nestle (Fantis, 2010).
In this case as before, the company’s public relations team failed to respond to the crisis in the right way. Instead of trying to save its reputation in the face of crisis, the company contacted Google with a request to remove the video clip.
The effect of the social media on this campaign was to spread this clip widely within a short period of time. Various social media networks such as twitter, facebook among others posted this video clip and the reaction by many was to keep off from buying Nestlé’s products.
The crisis by Nestle is just an example to point at, a piece of an iceberg (Broida, 2010). Social media has been a great force which has brought both success and great challenges to corporate world in relation to public relations activities.
The introduction of social network sites such as facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Cyworld among others has attracted users in terms of millions most of whom use the sites on daily basis. Most of these networks allow users to share matters of common interest such as sports, politics and other issues and views.
According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), social network is defined as a service based on the web site that allows an individual to construct a profile which can either be public or semi public.
The site also allows articulation of other users who share a common value, and also allows the user to go through the list of connections of their own and those created by other users within the same network (Boyd, 2008). Apart from enabling users to meet strangers, these social networks also allow users to articulate their minds through the network.
Though different social networks differ in technical features employed, they have some common features such as Friend’s list, profile photo among others. The sites also help the user to develop a profile by answering a questionnaire generated by the system (Donath and Boyd, 2004). The visibility of these profiles differs from social site to the other and also depending on the preferences of the user.
The sites also prompt the user to find friends or followers to form a communication relationship with them. They are also developed with a mechanism that allows users to post comments on others profiles and also to share their views on various issues.
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Since 2003, the social sites have experienced exponential growth attracting both corporate and individual users locally and globally. These social sites have enabled users to create representation of self online (Boyd, 2008). The accuracy of these representations of self varies from users to users.
Some users fail to provide true representation and instead prefer to use fake representation. There are also issues of self representation in relation to the articulation of friendship in the social network as noted by Boyd and Ellison.
Social network sites provide a rich source of information to companies which can help in market research. They provide information on the behavior of users and possible indicators of their preferences. This helps a company a great deal in research and development and also to market the product and the company through these social network sites. However the sites present a challenge to companies in relation to the public relation activities.
This arises from the speed at which a comment can be relayed across the network. Therefore, reputation of the company can easily be damaged before they have a chance to control the problem, if unfavourable information about the company leaks in the social network media.
Social media crises can be explained from the view point of Goffman’s concepts. According to him, the reaction of the self to social regulation is based on unfocussed and focused interaction. Therefore, the agreement between individuals on a single visual attention and cognitive focus leads to focused interaction (Goffman, 1959). On the other hand, communication between people as a result of an individual being in the presence of another results in the unfocused interaction.
The interactions always occur during encounters which can either be face to face or the interaction of a group with a given attribute. The basic methods employed include fronts, idealization, and dramatic realization among others.
The frontal approach is vital for a face to face interaction. In this case an individual uses his appearance, physical settings and expressive items. The individual is confronted by a choice of predefined set which are finite, or meet the consequences of an improper front considered insulting to the observer (Goffman, 1959).
Front includes aspects such as face which involves the struggle by an individual to maintain a given identity in a social settings, and region behavior based on defined regions by the perceptions.
Dramatic realization involves the use of gestures by an individual to obscure facts and to link two actions one of which is not as conspicuous as the other with the aim of making them appear as one. On the other hand idealization expresses themselves in roles that have what is accepted as a social value.
In this concept, a person creates a reality alternate to the existing one which forces others to see only the end product instead of showing evidence of undesirable action that is used to have the work done (Goffman, 1967). In case of misrepresentation, an individual looks for signs of contradictions which can be used to build the case against the party considered as insincere.
This probably is what led to the crises experienced by Nestle since their principles were inconsistent with their actions and those of its employees. The concept of mystification explains the tendency of an individual to avoid areas likely to expose his flaws.
In other words there is always an effort by an individual to hide his flaws. Other concepts include the reality concept which explains the behavior of individuals to portray themselves as sincere and honest, irrelevance rules and transformation rules.
Social media crises can be explained through Goffman’s concepts. The front concept guides an individual to choose between what is considered right and the consequences of not doing this.
Media crises in most cases has resulted due the ignorance of corporate bodies to consider this social value which give rise to conflict between corporate bodies and the society (Goffman, 1959). The screenshot below is an example of the consequences of Nestle Company’s failure choose front acceptable to the society.
Another source of social media crises arise when audience perceive a company as not being sincere. The can be detected by individuals from activities of the corporate body on its social site which may be inconsistent with its actions in the physical world (Goffman, 1967).
An example to point at is that of Nestle Company whose principle on professionalism of its employees was inconsistent with their actions which created a public relation issues exemplified below.
Social network crises can arise also when an organization tries its hide its flaws. This creates a problem when individuals realizes. The leakage of such information into the social media is always followed by fast transmission from one social media network user to the other therefore giving a company a challenge which sometimes may lead to the destruction of the company’s reputation.
Social media presents opportunities and threats to companies. The major challenge however involves public relations managements of the company’s affairs in the social media. To manage social media, a company should employ people with high level of professionalism to man their social media profile.
The company should also try as much as possible to provide accurate information. To counter negative information about the company in the social media, the company should be as honest as possible.
Boyd, D. and Ellison, N., B. (2007). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of computer-mediated communication, 13(1), article 11.
Boyd,D. (2008). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham (Ed.), Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Broida, R. (2010). Nestle’s Facebook Page: How a Company Really Screw up Social Media. Web.
Donath, J., & Boyd, D. (2004). Public displays of connection. BT Technology Journal, 22(4), 71-82.
Fantis, S. (2010). It’s a Social Media Crisis- Epic Failure for ‘killer’ Nestle? Web.
Goffman, E. (1959). Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: DoubleDay Anchors.
Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction Rituals. New York: Pantheon Books.
Owyang, J. (2011). A Chronological of Brands that Got Punk’d by Social Media. Web.