A quick look at the comments under Gillette’s most recent tweet debuting its #TheBest MenCanBe campaign might leave you thinking heads are rolling at Procter & Gamble (Gillette’s corporate parent) and Grey, the ad agency Gillette partnered with in creating the ad. The roughly two-minute video advertisement calls on men to collectively fill a new societal role in actively discouraging and eliminating aggressive behaviors that have historically fallen under the “boys will be boys” label, including physical violence and misogyny; it challenges men to rise to a new, higher standard of socially acceptable behavior. As of January 17, the ad has 47,000 comments and 25 million views on Twitter.
Just four months ago, Nike debuted a similarly controversial ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. It was a pointed choice considering Nike is an official sponsor of the NFL and Kaepernick is one of the league’s biggest critics; he is currently suing the NFL for colluding to keep him off the field because of his social activism efforts. The comments under Nike’s tweet promoting the “Dream Crazy” campaign featuring Kaepernick were equally as bitter and condemning as the comments are under Gillette’s. And yet following the Kaepernick ad, Nike went on to post a 10% revenue increase for the fourth quarter and was also crowned Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year for 2018 for the campaign.
Social media comments are an important metric for gauging reputational health but not the only one. The Nike and Gillette ads offer a few important insights worth unpacking:
Social media comments are one metric for gauging reputational health. They are not the only metric and should always be considered in relation with other meaningful metrics like financial performance and quality of leadership. Think about when you go to the doctor’s office for an annual physical exam. The doctor uses multiple metrics including body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels to determine overall physical health. Any one metric considered in isolation does not and will not paint an accurate picture of one’s overall health. In fact, such a myopic view could lead to serious adverse consequences. The same goes for gauging reputational health and social media comments. The latter is simply one metric used for determining the former. The Colin Kaepernick Nike ad is a perfect example. The Twitter comments in response to that ad were equally as vicious and critical as the comments are in response to Gillette’s ad. And yet Nike’s revenue increased by 10% in the fourth quarter of 2018, something Nike’s CFO attributed to “reignited brand heat in North America” generated by the ad and the attention it created.
The “squeakiest wheels” gravitate toward social media. There is the old saying “the squeakiest wheel gets the grease” meaning people or problems that make themselves noticeable tend to get the most attention. In fact, the most frequent social media users (i.e. people who log on to social media sites more than once a day) are also the most frequent complainers on these platforms. It naturally follows that a significant portion of social media comments skew negative because the people posting them are the most active users, and therefore their comments do not necessarily paint a full picture of stakeholder sentiment.
Consumer opinions do not always require a corporate response. Opinions do not necessarily require a response or carry the same reputational threat posed by (in)direct requests for assistance that go unaddressed. Take the following example: a person posts on the Facebook wall of a restaurant that he “HATES the food because it is disgusting.” Another person posts on the same restaurant’s Facebook wall saying she will never go back there because “even with a reservation, I still had to wait 30 minutes. This place is horrible. Do NOT go there.” Both comments are critical, but only one is constructive in the sense there is a clear opportunity for the restaurant to improve its service and win back a customer. It is worth noting here that customers become more loyal to a company after having an issue IF the company addresses the issue in a satisfactory way. Granted the latter comment does not include an explicit request for help, it does clearly name an issue (i.e. excessive wait times even with a reservation) that other patrons have likely experienced and that the restaurant has the power to correct, perhaps by adopting a new seating strategy at the host stand. The restaurant also has a clear opportunity to win back the customer’s patronage and boost its reputation by apologizing for the experience, thanking her for bringing the issue to management’s attention, and inviting her to please come back and enjoy a free meal or offering some other incentive.
Closing thoughts. Nike did not respond directly to any stakeholders attacking the Kaepernick ad and as of this writing neither has Gillette. In both cases, neither company is disinviting customers to be their patrons. Rather they are making it clear what they value as an organization (something more and more American consumers care about, click here to learn why) and are leaving it up to the customer to decide what to do with that information. If that includes expressing a negative opinion and discontinuing his/her patronage, that is a highly calculated risk Nike and Gillette are willing to take, and in Nike’s case ultimately paid off. It is still too early to tell for Gillette how the #TheBestMenCanBe ad will play out, but if the Nike “Dream Crazy” campaign tells us anything, it is that social media comments do not have the final say in determining reputational health.