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Kutcher, Sanitary Pads and Social Media

Several years ago one of the clients I handled also made sanitary pads. One day in a casual chat with the marketing manager he mentioned an incident from his company’s sanitary pads division.

Apparently a brand manager got a letter from a distributor that they had picked up a complaint from a customer that the sanitary napkin was giving her a rash.

Being a large MNC this was seen a serious enough to fly someone down to meet the affected customer. Many hours of discussion later it emerged that the lady was using the sanitary napkin exactly opposite to the way it was intended!!

Problem identified, customer educated, all left happy.

Fast forward 20 years and examine the media situation around.

Today a problem with the brand doesn’t get translated into a letter to a distributor. It shows up in Tweets and Facebook updates. This then gets retweeted and shared and before you know it, it’s become a full blown crisis. At that point in time, it doesn’t matter that the problem lies with the consumer and not the brand.

Given the perceived credibility of much of the on-line reporting, even social media reporting, such challenges can blow up enough to damage the brand.

Witness Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter experience when he tweeted about the sexual harassment scandal in Penn State U. For those who may have missed it, an assistant coach was accused of sexual abuse of a few boys in his care. This was reported to the head coach, who basically did nothing. When the news broke out the University fired the head coach, Joe Paterno.

Ashton saw the news on TV and tweeted ‘ How do you fire Jo Pa? as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” He has a few million followers and the uproar that followed that tweet, forced him to apologise and he has basically handed over his Twitter account to a professional firm to manage, to avoid other faux pas.

The reason I mention the Kutcher episode is that his clarification was that he saw a bit of the news that talked about Paterno being fired. He missed out the whole other bit that gave the reason why. Based on that little bit of information he went out and committed the blunder that he did.

He was wrong. He remedied it.

However, when a consumer tweets or updates an erroneous bit of information she/he is not overly concerned with the real truth of it. She/he is not intentionally lying, but is reporting based on her/his experience.

For no real ‘fault’ of the brand in question it is the one at the receiving end.

Two points for brands to consider :

It is not for a brand to decide whether they need a social media strategy or not. If their consumers are using social media, then the brand better have a strategy. Brands don’t control these conversations any more. It’s already been decided for them.

Social media strategies are not like old world media strategies, which generally tend to be static. Plans are drawn for the year, or the quarter. They are optimised and off to execution. There may be some limited fine tuning of media based on effectiveness, but largely it is a sit back world. However, social media needs a lean forward mindset. Active listening and being prepared are the name of the game. There are many conversation monitoring tools out there. Pick an agency that has got a good understanding and able to monitor the chatter. Integrate them with the brand and PR agency.

That is the bare minimum that every brand needs to do to listen, learn and react to consumer on-line.

Remember the Scouts motto? ‘Be Prepared’!

That should also be the social media motto!!




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