How Social Media Helps Keep Brands Accountable (& Tips To Keep The Trolls At Bay)

How Social Media Helps Keep Brands Accountable (& Tips To Keep The Trolls At Bay)

In this guest post, founder and CEO of and Wink Models, Taryn Williams (main photo), offers tops tips to ensure your social media strategy doesn’t become a troll-led PR disaster…

With a few key steps, brands can not only avoid a dreaded backlash but benefit from savvy choices.

Social media is unfiltered and can even be a bit loose at times, which helps to give it the fresh, authentic, relatable vibe that users love and makes it a great way for brands to reach potential customers.

But a few things I’ve learned in working at the coalface of influencer marketing & social media content creation is that it’s a great tool for keeping brands honest, but it also has plenty of pitfalls for brands who don’t put enough thought into selecting the right influencer or talent for their values and message.

If a brand or influencer post fails the great Aussie ‘pub test’, the result is instant and furious. It’s a far cry from the days when an off-key ad might result in a few disgruntled letters or phone calls to the switchboard. At worst, newspapers might pick up the issue for a day of ritual shaming.

Now, if a TV or print ad or a social post is crude or sexist, isn’t diverse enough, or just in poor taste, you barely have time to draw breath before all hell breaks loose on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and anywhere else opinions are freely and instantaneously shared.

Like the letter or phone call of the past, a single critical tweet is unlikely to hurt a brand. But unlike the pre-social media days, one tweet can quickly snowball if it’s retweeted, with comments, opinions and new angles added to fan the flames of outrage. Within hours, a snowball becomes an avalanche. Throw in a media pile-on for good measure, and your brand suddenly has a full-blown reputational crisis on its hands.

Take the recent example of indigenous Aussie basketball star Liz Cambage, who quickly spotted that a couple of Olympic-themed posts comprised casts of almost entirely white athletes. “If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, how am I meant to represent a country that doesn’t even represent me?” she tweeted of what she labelled “whitewashing”, accompanied by a threat to withdraw from the Olympic team.

Because of her standing as the sport’s most talented and high-profile athlete, the controversy exploded across mainstream media, prompting a quick mea culpa from the Australian Olympic Committee and promise to better represent indigenous and non-white athletes. A good result, even if it took a bit of bad blood to get there. Hopefully, other brands looking on were also taking note.

One lesson from this affair is that one of the most important decisions of any social media campaign is talent selection. Sure, finding a good fit for the brand’s message is an important consideration, but not at the expense of appropriate and aspirational role models. The right choice can add a halo effect that tells prospective customers that the brand supports gender equality, racial minorities or people of all abilities. It can prompt a subtle perception shift, and a tipping point for a sale.

Then there’s reputation protection to think of. In the good old days when engaging a top-tier celebrity to be in a billboard campaign, marketing teams would do their due diligence with contracts specifying what would happen if that person got arrested for drink-driving or whatever it might be. They would really take the time to put best practices and safety measures in place and get really clear about messaging.

That’s now much harder to do when you’re working with numerous influencers, most likely on lower budgets than if you were engaging top-tier celebs to be the face of your brand. So you need to find ways to apply that at scale. That could be using a marketplace such as where we have contracts and tools built into our platform. However you go about it, it’s important to follow the processes you would for higher-tier faces of your brand, because the potential for reputational damage is just as great.

In other words, it’s not only crucial to have your branding on-point and your messaging sharp, it really does matter who delivers the message. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but after five years running, I’ve got a reasonable idea what will fly.

Another feature of social media is that it creates avenues for direct and intimate contact between brands and their followers, allowing them to interact in real time. This is arguably doing as much to promote diversity and inclusion as all the HR-themed seminars on political correctness, demonstration marches and outraged letters-to-the-editor put together.

The result is that brands should now know their audience intimately, and be more in tune with their opinions and beliefs than ever before. Not only does that give them valuable proactive insights into marketing decisions, it can (and should) also inform internal discussions that help shape inclusive policies and empowering social media campaigns.

Other times, it’s not so much the campaigns or isolated social posts being called out, as a brand’s philosophical positioning. A lot of social media pressure is being applied directly to the boardrooms of ASX-listed companies to lead by example to address issues such as gender inequality.

Although social media remains largely unregulated, there’s a fair degree of predictableness in the way users will champion a good cause, lampoon a poor one, and instigate a witch hunt at any faint whiff of impropriety. And yet, on an almost daily basis we still see brands falling short of well-established standards and leaving themselves exposed to social shaming.

Use this predictability and the interaction you have with your audience to get clear on the messaging and values you want from an influencer or talent, then use reputable marketplaces or platforms to choose talent that will not only avert a crisis but could even add a shiny halo to your brand.

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taryn williams

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