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Brand Reputation Management in the Trumpean Era

Posted on 31 January 2017

Brand reputation management has entered a new era, with significant implications for social media monitoring and proactive risk aversion practices.

Today’s savvy brands understand the implications of consumer “ownership” of the brand experience and its reverberation on the brand spectrum. No longer is social responsibility an option, but rather a critical mass for success. Brands, which have traditionally professed political neutrality, are increasingly being forced to take an overt stand, or hazard political jeopardy.

These are unprecedented times for brands, demanding proactive brand oversight in social media. Brands face a clear and present danger in the Trump Era, on both ends of the scope. While transparency in brand communications is a prerequisite in the age of social, brands are faced with a new real and present danger—retaliatory tweet-sniping by elected officials who take umbrage with their values, principles or political convictions.

The opacity of post-election skies appears increasingly gloomier for brands who dare trumpet reproach, as with Boeing, of Trump’s proposed trade policy. On the other side of the lens, pledge loyalty/donate (LL Bean), or even feign to support Trump trade policy (New Balance), and risk infuriating legions of brand loyalists. Or worse, losing share value or customers.

Notwithstanding, tacit association with Trump brands (Nordstroms, Macys, Kelloggs, Target, Marshalls, Walmart, Ivanka Trump label, to name a few who carry Trump merchandise), is fraught with tanking reputation as they are pummeled by calls for boycott (#GrabYourWallet, #BoycottIvanka, and #ResistTrump since the Inauguration).

To analyze brands affected by the pre-Inauguration Trump backlash, Localspeak filtered three months of “Boycott Trump” data in NetBase to reveal those most impacted by their association, tacit or direct, with Trump, initially sparked last October by Shannon Coulter’s GrabYourWallet.

Boycott Trump Brand Analysis - 10/18/16-1/18/17 - NetBase Application

A similar analysis of Ivanka Trump spelled trouble for brand Ivanka, the fashion, jewelry and lifestyle brand, corroborating the collateral damage to her business.

All this occurring even prior to Trump’s inauguration. Tweet-damning has been escalated by the new Administration to Shakespearean proportions, giving rise to solicitous CEO behavior

But find yourself in the ‘meister zinger’s’ crosshairs—whether you’re an acclaimed artist/private citizen (Meryl Streep, Madonna) or revered civil rights icon/political adversary (John Lewis)— and you risk unwittingly being mired in a new game of Truth or Consequences, or worse, Tweet-sniped (to some, a badge of merit!).

However, brand reputation management in an age of trigger-happy bully tweeting need not be angst-ridden. Today’s social media analytics tools are highly reliable early warning instruments, replete with scaled and refined alert settings customized for your entire organization.

Once considered anathema, brands are now becoming more socially and politically proactive, hedging themselves against potentially detrimental consumer action. Naturally, with the exposure, comes risk, begging the increased value of robust brand intelligence and analytics.

Reputation management and future-proofing also call for a redefinition of influencer strategy —once considered a politically agnostic marketing and branding asset—to embrace brand activism as a crowd-sourcing hedge of sorts in an era of unfiltered social media vulnerability.

How do brands future-proof themselves in a post-truth era of unabated, rampant fake news and damaging Twitter-sniping while upholding social issues such as human rights and climate change? Brand activism is the new tightrope challenging erstwhile brand political agnosticism. No longer an option, clarity of brand principles is becoming an expectation among consumers and investors alike.

In a departure from the erstwhile politically innocuous standard once considered safe haven, brand activism has been thrust to the forefront of brand identity. This has been particularly apparent in the political positions assumed by brands like Corona and Tecate in ad campaigns leading up to the presidential elections. Championing immigrant and LGBT rights, respectively, their principled stance earned consumer acclaim.

Evidence that #ResistTrump threatens to undo your brand reputation became amply evident with Trump’s singularly anti-Muslim travel ban. Localspeak analyzed trending data in NetBase which revealed citizen pushback against Uber, trending in the same streams as #boycottTrump and #grabyourwallet. Uber was called out for opportunistically breaking ranks with #NoMuslimBan protesters when it attempted to countervail the New York Taxi Commission’s work stoppage during the height of JFK protests-offering itself as an alternative ride.

Trending Brand Analysis - Jan 20-30, 2017 - NetBase Application

In a dramatic move, tech industry leaders—many of whom didn’t vote for Trump or openly opposed him—vehemently opposed the Muslim ban with calls to embrace diversity. Only recently, many of the same tech giants were invited to Trump’s roundtable in a presumptive collaborative spirit.

A rising #NoMuslimBan crescendo can be heard from a spectrum of global brands who cherish diversity as a cornerstone of their core values, principles and identity. Brands have taken an initial bold step into the frontier of social activism, aligning themselves with citizen values. Others, in a preemptive bully pulpit dodge, may prefer to careen a while longer lest they rankle the Tweet-sniper-in-Chief.

The opening salvo of the current Administration leaves brands with scant wiggle room to tiptoe around principles. While aware of the unfathomable territory they have entered when it comes to potential retaliatory bully pulpit retribution, brands today cannot escape social media transparency or citizen vigilance.

Open season for tweet-sniping begets a new normal: social brand risk management.

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