On Friday evening, when my phone started to buzz, I could not believe what my eyes were seeing. More hatred, suffering, fear and loss… and in a country that many of us consider to be close to home. One that many of us have visited and that we quickly fell in love with; one we would return to in a heartbeat and whose spirit nobody could ever destroy. “The event” had unfortunately happened – the type of event that previous IS6621 classes had experienced and would likely never forget. An event that came alive through social media (if you haven’t seen it yet, you should take a look at the video of thousands signing “La Marsellaise” as they were being evacuated from the stadium) and that demonstrated the power of this medium to bring us together.
I had not intended to blog about Paris but today I felt compelled to, particularly as it related to the topic I’ve been exploring throughout the semester – brands. Throughout the weekend, many brands took to social media to express their sorrow, support the French and offer assistance. As we all know, the French red, white and blue took over Facebook, Jean Jullien’s “Peace for Paris” logo went viral and many brands leveraged trending hashtags such as #prayforparis, #parisattacks and #porteouverte to express their solidarity. As you can see below, these expressions came in different magnitudes – from a tweet, to turning over home page imagery (like Amazon did) to promoting their disaster relief programs (as Airbnb did).
Airbnb’s reaction was very notable – they capitalized on the strength of their sharing economy by asking renters to host displaced Parisian citizens or tourists free of charge and in return, the company would reimburse them for any stays between November 13 and November 17.
Communication companies such as Sprint, Verizon and Skype also stepped up by offering free calls/texts to and from France. And Google followed suit by announcing free calls to France via Google Hangouts.
Yet, many known brands had very minimal reactions and some we still haven’t heard from. Tim Cook posted “Prayers for Paris, the victims and their loved ones. Nous sommes tous Parisiens” on Twitter but we didn’t see much more from Apple. LinkedIn has yet to show their support and while Twitter has been a key information hub, only their @TwitterFrance handle has been actively expressing support.
I asked a member of a brand’s legal team (my source preferred to remain anonymous) why she thought such disparate reactions happen and why some brands will stay completely silent on social after huge events take place and she shared some interesting thoughts.
While she completely sympathized with the tragic events that unfolded, she explained that with great visibility comes huge scrutiny– and that the larger and more conservative the company, the harder it can be to get any form of message approved. Often, the strategy IS status quo. Not commenting can bring a small amount of attention, but oftentimes, this is the best course of action for a company not willing to expose itself to risk or who couldn’t really contribute much besides a sympathetic message.
As we can learn from what happened to Facebook, either you never react or you always react, but when you start to stand behind certain events, causes, countries and not others, you inevitably expose yourself to criticism or greater fallout. Oftentimes the choice is simple – if a company is based in France, has employees working there and/or derives significant business from the country, it could be insensitive not to react. But for those more removed, it may be best to stay silent.
After chatting with her I do agree that it truly depends on a company’s strategy, level of risk taking with regards to posting on social, geographic presence and key consumer targets. Airbnb had the means and local connections to help, but the same wasn’t true for LinkedIn. How much more could they have contributed after Facebook activated Safety Checks? Did you even mind? Where you surprised by another brand’s lack of response?