It’s hard to imagine a time where we didn’t get our news, social interaction and products served through social media. It governs our lives more than it should and it’s completely changed how businesses operate. Not only do businesses now abide by a 24/7 presence, but it also means that they have to conduct themselves in an ethical and appropriate way with that definition often determined by their audience.
After all, how easy can a faux pas be shared and retweeted, and before you have time to take down a post or resolve an issue – you’ve gone viral in the worst possible way.
Let’s take a look at a recent example of how a business has not only missed the mark on social media but actually had to play ball given the sheer power of the response garnered on these social platforms.
Putting pressure on a business to satisfy the public demands
The Folau fiasco of 2019 had all the drama you would expect from a blockbuster movie – religion, professional sporting contracts, big business and bigoted persecution. Unfortunately for Qantas, this was no story, but a tirade of homophobic posts that resulted in a negative commentary and outraged public looking to Qantas for a swift resolution in flexing their sponsorship and delivering subsequent punishment.
After a short deliberation, Folau was fired from Australian Rugby with the lucrative Qantas partnership too valuable to gamble with. Lawyer Alan McDonald has studied the event and outcome, noting that Qantas could actually be liable for how they treated Folau, with Rugby Australia acting in the interest of sponsors and social pull instead of acting like an employer.
While Folau’s comments were both cruel and unprofessional, social media played the role of judge, jury and executioner with the story dominating the news cycle and social engagement for an extended period of time.
Now more than twelve months later, Folau has settled out of court and received a formal apology from Rugby Australia. Employment lawyers at McDonald Murholme believe that Qantas may not have taken the measured approach the public celebrated them for, and could be implicated if they have implied or explicitly told Rugby Australia that they will be ending the partnership if he remains on the team.
The case is an example of social media driving the narrative, and essentially placing businesses like Qantas in a position where they have to stand behind or distinguish a contract – with public sway ultimately determining the fate.
Good and bad PR is decided on social media, as businesses refocus
A company’s social media page has a responsibility of more than communicating promotions, photography and updates. It sets the scene for businesses to address issues and ultimately engage with their audience and customers in the most genuine way.
In years gone by, a good or bad news story has been handed to a PR entity who has managed the response and liaised with media outlets accordingly. Now the process has essentially cut out the middle man, with companies communicating news on their social platforms and the public carrying the story far and wide through sharing, tweeting and essentially spelling out to media outlets that this is something they are interested in.
This presents an opportunity as well as risk for businesses, as they can garner a positive virtual community by doing the right thing and rallying for their audience, or it can set the scene for a public, heated debate wherein brands can sometimes not recover.
Whether businesses like it or not, transparency is critical on social media, and if used correctly, businesses can actually let the activity on their social media steer them in the direction of new product lines, partnership opportunities, improved sales experience and any other tidbit that people feel more than entitled to share.
The Folau case and many more like it demonstrate how social media has changed how businesses operate. When your business values align with your customers, there is a harmonious unity. Although when the public demands of a business more than they can legally extend, businesses can expect to be in hot water whichever side they choose.