A few years ago, when you typed Greggs, the popular bakery in the UK worth £1bn (2018) into Google, the screen grab on the right displayed the familiar logo with the tag line – “Providing xxxx to scum for 70 years”.
This was in no way the fault of Greggs who claimed the picture was from a satirical platform that also hosts a great deal of reliable content and is therefore marked as a quality source, to the point that Google’s algorithm can’t differentiate between fact or fiction.
Despite the size and power of Google, it proves that even they are no match against any one individual intent on creating a firestorm, otherwise known as a #brandvandal – a term coined by Stephen Waddington and Steve Earl, the authors of Brand Anarchy.
Knowing that Brand Vandals are a reality, highlights how organisations are no longer the brand custodians of their own reputation, yet in the Middle East corporate communications is still built on a belief that companies can control the message being communicated to an audience. In reality, organisations can plan their public relations activity and carefully craft messages but full control is not and has never been possible.
Even offline, companies still believe they can dictate the news agenda and/ or agree to an interview but then demand sign off on the finished transcript. It highlights a lack of trust in the influencers, namely the journalists, who are offering a great opportunity to communicate company success, rather than being a potential threat to a company’s reputation.
The same principle applies to influencers online. What Greggs did well, was believe in their product and believe in their online community to support them. So they set about being honest about the situation, highlighting that they had no reason to hide because they knew, as did their customers, that their food was not ‘xxxx’.
Trying to cover the story up or controlling the conversation would only make people think there was merit to the message.
So they set about showing a human side to the company and using humour to steer them through the deluge of tweets. They also openly communicated with Google, who responded in a similar tone, as a way of providing a status update on the fix – rather than operate in the background and keep the public questioning and laughing.
Suddenly the online community began backing Greggs, engaging in the humour and forming a chorus of commentators who criticised #brandvandals.
So whether it’s a journalist or an online community, companies need to identify and trust their influencers to represent their brand in a positive light. It means relinquishing autonomous control and rather than acting as a brand guardian, corporate communicators need to become a brand guide and trust their followers who have the power to provide an endorsement for the brand . . . and its pastries.