Social Media Wars: The Force was not with Disney+
Social media is a minefield for managing the reputation of a brand. Brands need to be ‘part of the conversation’ and social media campaigns need… Read more
Social media is a minefield for managing the reputation of a brand. Brands need to be ‘part of the conversation’ and social media campaigns need to be quick and nimble. There’s relatively little time or space for nuance. Yet it is very easy to mis-step and the reputational harm can be great.
The current furore over Disney+ (Disney) and the #MayThe4th hashtag is a classic example. It illustrates how, post-Cambridge Analytica and in this fake news era, the social media public is much more savvy about their personal data and rights in the content they create and upload to social media. If a brand is perceived to be overreaching rights to the content created by users (UGC) or laying claim to hashtags or social media features then, as Disney is now experiencing, that can cause a potentially damaging social media reaction.
So what can brands do to avoid these issues? In terms of take-away points:
- The key is to be sensitive and alive to how you deal with UGC and your rights to use it.
- These issues matter to the social media public and are high in the public consciousness.
- Getting it wrong can be costly and can present obvious targets for social media trolls.
- Remember your audience. Adapt your content use process and how you message that to your forum. That may mean being less legalistic and taking a more pragmatic approach to UGC.
- The sticking plaster approach of using generic hyperlinked legal T&Cs in order to avoid legal risk may, on balance, be outweighed by the reputational risk of taking this approach.
- A parred-back, open and user-friendly approach may overall be lower risk and could actually engender you to users.
What happened to Disney is a useful illustration.
Disney sent out a series of Tweets on its Disney+ Twitter feed calling for social media users to celebrate Star Wars and to share Star Wars related content which Disney might then select and use for a special May 4th promotional campaign. Nothing unusual there. Think families dressed as Wookies. Darth Vader in the park. The devil (Sith) is in the detail though and the point is that the social media public and the brand might interpret that detail and the motive differently. The Tweets read:
What makes this galling for Disney is that Disney’s Tweets were arguably not in fact laying claim to the #May4th or all UGC that used that hashtag. The tricky interpretation was over the wording “by sharing your message with us using #MayThe4th”. Hashtags allow social media users to label their Tweets. Twitter indexes hashtags and groups all the content using a specific hashtag together. Users interested in a certain topic can search a hashtag and see all the related content – rather than being limited to only seeing the content of a particular Twitter user. The issue for Disney was that the Tweets were read by some as meaning any use of #MayThe4th was “sharing” with Disney. The other interpretation of course is that the Tweets together only referred to UGC that was shared with Disney by reply AND that used the hashtag.
Disney replied to clarify:
So from Disney’s perspective, the Tweets were defining the UGC it might use in the campaign (namely UGC submitted to Disney in response to the MayThe4th campaign and referencing the #). Unfortunately, by the time Disney sent the clarification Tweet the social media reaction was already underway. Once in motion these adverse social media events are very hard to stop or to correct. The viral nature of social media, the sheer speed of percolation and global reach is what makes social media a reputational minefield for brands. Throw in human behaviour and an abundance of aggression and vitriol and the original issue itself gets lost and morphed, let alone any attempt to clarify.
Fundamentally, users are particularly sensitive to terms and conditions being imposed on them. A legal contract requires agreement. Signature is the traditional way of confirming agreement but that doesn’t work in the digital environment. Instead, website or digital content terms and conditions frequently rely on users’ contractual agreement being by way of their access to the content or continued use of the website. There has been considerable public and governmental scrutiny of how this might be exploited by powerful tech and platform companies. In particular in relation to social media companies and privacy policies governing use of their users personal data but also with respect to IP rights in uploaded UGC. These concerns are the zeitgeist of our times. Framing a UGC user contract as one that can be accepted by submission of content or some other act (such as continued use) rather than express agreement and without flagging the key points risks inflaming social media users.
So what can brands do? Key take-away points are set out above. The underlying message is that the risk assessment for social media use is a specific one and it needs to balance legal risk with reputational risk. There may be tension between the two. Ultimately brands would do well to reappraise their social media UGC acquisition policies and procedures. There is a lot to be said for a parred down user-friendly approach. It will help to avoid reputational harm. If done right it can also improve brand value by presenting a more modern and sensitive face to the brand.
For more information contact our digital content risk and reputation management team.
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