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‘Old-school’ approach to digital behind Clicks advert disaster

Read time 4min 30sec

A constantly-reviewed social media policy, which takes into account how digital content from third-party clients is analysed, can be a key metric in preventing a digital disaster such as that experienced by Clicks.

This is the sentiment shared by social media experts, as pharmacy, health and beauty retailer Clicks Group faces a backlash after displaying a hair care advert on its Web site. The advert was developed by its client, hair product manufacturer TRESemmé.

The advert, which was perceived as racist, sparked public outrage and nation-wide protests this week, led by political party Economic Freedom Fighters,which called for a nationwide shutdown of Clicks stores.

TRESemmé and Clicks have since apologised, with Clicks announcing it has suspended some of its employees and one of its senior executives has resigned.

In his apology, Clicks Group CEO Vikesh Ramsunder said that, as a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer, navigating the digital space is a new ballgame for the pharmaceutical giant.

“We have spent all our time in the brick-and-mortar space. Over the last few years, we’ve gone into digital and certainly the controls in digital are not as strong as those in brick-and-mortar. We would have had a whole lot of people reviewing the material published for brick-and-mortar purposes, yet in digital a few people were able to review and post, which has damaged our brand.”

As businesses have learnt from the Clicks case, a misstep on any digital platform has enough power to cause nationwide protests and harm brands.

Dean McCoubrey, ICT expert and founder of social media and online safety programme MySociaLife, says while most corporates have a "social media policy” which informs all digital platforms, the real challenge is that often it is neglected or not tuned into the key voices of the brand, or of the brands in the chain of creation.

“The social media policy needs to be dusted off and reviewed by an expert in the field of what's happening and in which channels. It requires brands to understand the evolving news feed, the power of social media, as well as the various social platforms which continue to evolve.”

According toMcCoubrey, as it is, very few brands understand social media platforms such as TikTok or Reels, and whether employees might be on these discussing their brand, teammates or customers in any particular way.

“Social media policies should be relevant and updated constantly. They should be woven into the organisation, and not just in the marketing department policy, and they should pay attention to processes and safeguards (checklists).”

Clear-cut strategy

Rachel Irvine, CEO of corporate communications, public relations and reputational risk management company Irvine Partners, says better processes need to be put in place to ensure digital and social media content is reviewed by senior management before going out.

A social media strategy that takes into account how third-party client content is treated will prevent similar disasters from taking place, notes Irvine.

“Social media gaffes don’t happen in isolation. Without excusing the particular social media team’s error, it’s important to look at the company as a whole.

“Is inclusivity and sensitivity to issues baked into its DNA? Is it something that’s part of the company culture, or is there just lip-service paid once a year? Of course, some companies use outside agencies for their social media. In that case, they need to ensure the agency they use is aligned on values and, ideally, representative of the wider South African population,” advises Irvine.

There are some people in high-level marketing positions who think things like “it’s just a tweet”; however, “review processes are only as good as the people involved in them. And if those people don’t understand the importance of representation, then offensive material will slip past them.”

Arthur Goldstuck, head of World Wide Worx and chairman of Sasfin Bank’s digital advisory council, says many local companies, even those representing global organisations, still have no clear social media strategy in place, which should be informed by the social media policy.

“It seems Clicks has not fully taken on board the concept that social media is as mainstream a marketing platform as any other, and as central to business strategy as any other form of marketing and public relations.”

According to Goldstuck, the lack of social media strategy is often because the company’s management team are 'old-school' and don't fully understand the role and value of social media advertising.

“Some people in management roles either don’t 'get' social media or dismiss it as noise because they are unable to see past the noisiest content.

“In many cases, they want to stick with what works, and the way they have always done things. It is ironic that some of the finest minds in business strategy are unable to see the power of social media, so they don't incorporate it into their thinking.” 

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