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Firms have to embrace social media

01 February 2012, 13:25 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - Companies should embrace social media to turn negative publicity into a positives, experts have advised.

"There've been a lot of cases, you know Nestlé and others, that have definitely had some brand nightmares. They needed to step up and demonstrate to their key stakeholders that... they actually care and communicate what they are doing," Brian Wendel social media executive at FTI Consulting told News24.

Companies like BP, Chevron and Shell have been hit with massive fallout in social networks after oil spills devastated the environment.

Wendel said that firms have to engage with the discussion in the social media sphere, but conceded that it was a long-term process.

"They need to say 'Listen, here's our plan, this is what we're doing,' to at least have transparency. Although it's a very long road, [they need to] attempt, in baby steps, to restore confidence."

Online protests

Colleague Stuart Anderson said that the firms that ventured into social networks early on, are beginning to reap benefits.

"The early people that got whacked quite badly now seem to be the people that now seem to be doing quite a good job of using it [social media] to demonstrate 'We do have environmental policies, here they are'," said Anderson.

They indicated that a company's response to criticism largely depended on the brand identity and firms should not hesitate to defend positions, rather than comply with demands from the public.

In the past, many protests occurred via pickets and mass protests, and the growth of the internet presented the same challenges to companies online.

"Now, those [protest] activities happen online. It really comes down to 'How would you handle any crisis?'" said Wendel.

"We had a big hotel chain say to us: 'People write that our rooms are dirty, what should we do?' And we said: 'Clean them'," Anderson added.

Over four million South Africans have Facebook users and one million Twitter accounts. Mobile-focussed social network MXit has about 10 million active users.

Anderson said that social media presented opportunities for companies to publically address complaints which served to advertise their brand.

"Actually with social media, when people do complain, it gives you a fantastic opportunity to address the complaint publically."

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