How to Leverage a Social Media Firestorm to Increase Brand Value

Hal Conick
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? Firestorms are often seen as negative, but can they increase brand value?

So what? One brand received a bomb threat and 70,000 signatures against it while increasing Twitter followers by more than 10,000. 

Now what? “As a brand you can infuriate customers and instigate a social media firestorm [to help the brand], but it has to be framed and focused,” one researcher says. 

​March 7, 2017

Social media firestorms may rain down on a brand after a controversial moment, but researchers say they may also be beneficial for brand value

 

“Are you beach body ready?” 

This slogan, overlaid on an ad featuring a woman in a yellow bikini, took Protein World from relative obscurity to receiving 15,000 tweets per day.   

Joachim Scholz​, assistant professor of marketing at California Polytechnic State University, says Protein World’s “beach body” ad generated 70,000 online signatures against the company and a bomb threat to its headquarters. However, by the end of the firestorm, Protein World gained more than 10,000 Twitter followers and continues to grow its follower count.

Instead of trying to downplay the fury of those who saw the ads, the British company tweeted polemics like, “We are a nation of sympathizers for fatties” and framed its critics as “lazy and weak.” This allowed the company to frame itself, but also its opposition, Scholz says. Protein World told one Twitter responder to “grow up.” Scholz called this “distributed cultural jiu jitsu,” as the company used the force of its opponents against the them.

"The important point is that Proteinworld — through framing its critics as lazy and weak hypocrites and singling out certain hashtags and individuals — enabled their brand supporters to join the controversy," Scholz wrote in a follow-up email. "Protein World was able to create brand value in this firestorm because they activated their brand supporters to attack and troll their critics. I call this the 'Distributed Infuriation Strategy.'"

This method was also used to flip negative hashtags into beneficial hashtags for the company. The company used cultural jiu jitsu on the #BodyShaming hashtag aimed at it by those who said the model was not what real women looked like by proffering “#FitShaming.” Another hashtag#GrowUpHarriet,​ based on Protein World's tweet at a woman who asked if she was allowed on the beach, was quickly used to bask in the attention and criticism. 

 

 Source: Protein World

“That kind of twist from ‘body shaming’ to ‘fit shaming’ allowed a focused discussion,” Scholz says. 

This, however, is when the non-corporate trolls started tuning into the conversation. The Daily Mail and Breitbart, two firebrand outlets known for provocative headlines and right-leaning content, picked up the story and framed “#FitShaming” as an epidemic. Other accounts, such as InfoWars editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson and conservative feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, then entered the fray and drew in even more followers. 

Scholz called these accounts “support trolls,” but says they were anything but supportive of the brand’s message. These “support trolls” didn’t connect to the idea of helping people’s body or workout habit and left a poor taste in the mouths of many potential customers. It only took seven days for someone to receive a rape threat during the firestorm, Scholz says, at which point Protein World dropped the “#GrowUpHarriet” hashtag. 

“As a brand you can infuriate customers and instigate a social media firestorm [to help the brand], but it has to be framed and focused,” Scholz says. 

The framing is the most important part, he says, and if the firestorm gets out of hand, others trying to help can instead weaken the brand’s framing and turn the firestorm into a scorched earth. 


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Author Bio:

https://auth.ama.org/publishingimages/halheadshotcolorcorr.jpg
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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