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It’s an interesting time for brands. With political divisiveness reaching new peaks, companies are being asked to step into the fray and take stances (such as the mass resignations from the current administration’s business councils), and are increasingly being held accountable for their positions. What’s one driver of increased brand accountability? Social media, according to a report from Sprout Social.

Previous research from Sprout Social indicates that social media users generally dislike brands taking political stances on these platforms. But there are other issues that social media users can take brands to task for, per this latest report.

Indeed, 80% of social media users ages 18-64 surveyed for the report believe that social has increased accountability for brands by uncovering unfair treatment. Considering that ethical behavior is one of the key components of brand reputation and one of the critical building blocks of trust in companies, the ability for people to call out brands for unfair treatment is indeed a new consideration for companies.

As such, 3 in 4 social media users surveyed say that social has increased accountability for brands by giving consumers power.

Beyond uncovering unfair treatment, social media also encourages transparency (70%), amplifies issues (65%) and helps employees share experiences (55%), in users’ eyes.

Almost Half Have “Called Out” Brands

Singling out brands for various behaviors is not an activity limited to a small segment of the population, according to the survey’s findings.

Instead, almost half (46%) of the survey’s participants said that they called out brands on social media. This behavior is being driven by Millennials – 56% of whom have complained or called out brands. This isn’t too surprising: Millennials tend to be more sensitive to corporate social responsibility than earlier generations.

Why call out brands on social media? Apparently it’s not for being too political (14%). Instead, social media users are voicing their frustrations with dishonesty (60%), bad customer service (59%) and rudeness (in-person – 57%).

Rather than just seeking an apology or solution – though that’s a goal for a majority (55%) – these people are primarily looking to raise awareness among consumers (70%). In a sense, then, that’s how social media serves to amplify issues and give more power to consumers – rather than just being another direct communication channel for issue resolution, it lends a voice that is intended to be wide.

There’s reason to believe that other social media users are paying attention: 65% will respond to other consumers’ complaints on social media by conducting research before purchasing from the brand. About 1 in 6 simply won’t buy from the business again – demonstrating the power of social recommendations.

So how should brands respond to complaints on social media?

Ignoring the complaint is unlikely to help. Four in 10 consumers would contact the brand on another channel, while more than one-third (35%) would boycott the brand. Only 1 in 5 said they would forget about it.

A poor response, though, could be even more damaging, with half saying they would boycott a brand as a result. More than 4 in 10 would share their experiences with friends offline (42%) or online (41%).

And if a brand responds well? Almost half (45%) would post about the positive interaction, while more than one-third would buy from the brand again and share with their friends. Only 6% would continue to boycott a brand after it responded well to a complaint.

Perhaps brands should take note of research indicating one of the key building blocks of trust: to take responsible actions to address an issue or crisis. Start by acknowledging the issue openly and honestly…

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of more than 1,000 US social media users ages 18-64.

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