Social media drives narratives.  This cannot be stated enough.  Yet despite the power of social media and brands realizing its importance, they forget about its power and potential to create a crisis.  Very often their social media strategy does not reflect their tradition public relations strategy.

A case in point was celebrity chef, Paula Deen.  A photograph of Deen dressed as Lucille Ball and her son, Bobby with a brown face supposedly as Desi Arnaz was tweeted on Deen’s Twitter account.  This is occurred as as Deen has been waging a public relations campaign to rebuild her brand after accusations of racism in 2013 practically sank her brand.  The public outcry was tremendous with Deen the focus of outrage and ridicule.  It was later stated by Deen that the photograph was from several years ago and her social media manager who was responsible for the tweet had been dismissed.  Yet the story received widespread media coverage.

Whether an innocent mistake or not, the damage has been done to Deen, reinforcing the image in many people’s minds that Deen is a racist and justifying to sponsors yet again why they were wise to sever ties with her.  This as Deen has been going to great lengths to rebuild her image with a carefully orchestrated media and public relations campaign.  With that one tweet all the work she had done was undone and its back to the drawing board for Deen.

Brands often forget that their social media strategy must correspond with their traditional media strategy.  If it doesn’t that becomes a story.

Brands also forget the power of social media.  The Deen photo was taken down yet it had been screen captured and re-tweeted thousands of times.  Once something is posted on a social media site, it can be captured even if it is taken down.  Nothing is ever permanently deleted from social media.

Social media also creates the news stories that the media cover.  The Deen photo would never have received the coverage it did save for social media driving it.  Very often the media doesn’t even consider something to be newsworthy until it explodes on social media.  This is why every social media post needs to be handled with the care that a brand would handle a press release and needs constant monitoring.  But it isn’t just Deen who forgot the power of social media.  Both the recent Brian Williams’ story and Bill Cosby story were the result of social media.  Veterans’ organization had tried contacting NBC and other media outlets for years about Williams’ fabrications and were ignored.  Only when the story appeared on social media did it obtain coverage.  Likewise the allegations by numerous women against Bill Cosby did not receive strong media coverage until they appeared on social media.  In both cases the media went into a frenzy to compensate for not covering them originally feeling they had been scooped by social media.

Brands know the power of social media in reaching consumers and playing a role in their marketing efforts.  What they must never underestimate is the power it has in driving narratives and causing a media firestorm.  To do so is to do it at their peril.

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