To Engage Or Not To Engage In Times Of Controversy?

One of the tasks that social web marketers have is to engage a target audience in a conversation on social networks with the objective of leading them to acquire a product or service.   As a part of the process, marketers must select the right channels and the appropriate time to join the conversation in the attempt to facilitate the sales process.

In an ideal world, social media marketers can select to be flexible in regards to opening up a two-way channel where the discussion is all about the benefits about a product or service.  Unfortunately, it is not always the case, especially when there is controversy surrounding the product or service.   As a result, social media marketers must ask themselves the ultimate question, “To Engage Or Not To Engage?”.

To take a closer look at this issue, let’s  examine two recent cases that had controversy surrounding a brand: 1) Facebook Timeline and 2) Blackberry Service Interruption

1) Facebook Timeline

Figure 1 is a screenshot of the page with the Facebook Timelime‘s video on YouTube.

Figure 1: Facebook Timeline's YouTube Video

Notice anything missing on the page?  Take another look.  Facebook has disabled the comment box inhibiting people from leaving a message.   A cynical point of view says that was done on purpose because the social networking site did not want to deal with the negative feedback that is attached to the new feature and the associated changes to the platform.

2) Blackberry Service Interruption

During the public relation and marketing nightmare that Research In Motion (RIM) had to deal with recently, the smartphone manufacturer decided to take to its Facebook Blackberry page to acknowledge the issue and at the same time inviting feedback from unhappy clients.  Figure 2 is a screenshot of the manufacturer’s post on October 11th, 2011 when problems began to occur.  Clients’  comments are listed below the initial post.

Figure 2: Blackberry's Facebook Post Regarding Service Interruption Beginning October 11th, 2011

On October 12th and October 13th, 2011, RIM posted links to video messages from CIO Robin Bienfait and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis  that resulted in a combined:

  • 5694 Posted comments
  • 1344 Shares of the posts

Figure 3 is an illustration of the post with the link to Lazaridis’ statement and clients’ comments. (Not all of them are positive and relevant).

Figure 3: Post of Link To Lazaridis' Statement and Clients' Comments


By selecting to use social media platforms as an element of a marketing mix, companies leave themselves vulnerable to feedback that may not be too pleasant to deal with.  Although difficult to manage, the level of engagement in times of controversy can be an opportunity or a threat to brands.   Brands that are strong enough to withstand controversy can afford not to engage with hopes that the situation will be quickly forgotten by individuals.   In competitive industries, some brands may select to demonstrate that they are transparent and approachable in good times and in bad times which can be a very good reflection on their respective brands.

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About Intelegia

Intelegia is a boutique consulting firm in Montreal, Canada that understands the need to be innovative and strategic in a business landscape that’s evolving at an incredible pace. The firm delivers social media strategies to efficiently engage with stakeholders in economic development, business to business and business to consumer segments. It assists clients by defining and executing sustainable social web strategies that will allow their brand message to stand out in a competitive environment where target audience engagement is a must.