Social media has always been a great opportunity for brands to boost customer loyalty, engage consumers, generate leads, enhance sales, build reputation—and grow their organizations.
However, in recent months and as a result of COVID-19, people around the globe have been isolated from each other, forcing them to turn to online for their social interaction, creating a surge in users and content. In fact, in March 2020 alone, social media consumption increased 44% globally.
Coupled with increased societal issues and instigators—or trolls, harassers, activists, and sophisticated bad actors—this already-complex landscape has seen a boost in harmful and toxic content, creating a potentially disastrous scenario for brands.
In fact, according to our recent survey of 1,000 US consumers about harmful content, half of the respondents believe that negative content is on the rise. That’s 50% of social media users across the country seeing an increase in content that could potentially damage brand reputation, reduce revenue, or affect operations.
Harmful Content Is Creating Risk for Brands
The problem isn’t just that we are seeing more negative content about brands across social media channels. Yes, that’s a large problem, but only part of the reason brands need to be concerned.
According to the survey, 22% of U.S. respondents admit to sharing negative comments or content about a brand only to find out later they are untrue. That’s more than one out of five people propagating misleading harmful content about brands.
Oftentimes, this harmful content shows up on the brand’s page, lending more credibility to negative comments...and causing more damage. We also found that 38% of respondents say they have seen offensive or derogatory content on a brand or company’s social media page.
Adding to the complexity of this landscape, the increased digital chatter is diverse and covers a wide variety of topics. The most frequently mentioned topics associated with brands are inappropriate comments about COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.
After those two most frequently mentioned topics, rounding out the top 10 most mentioned topics associated with brands are:
Accusations of inequality
Accusations of discrimination
Partisan election/political involvement
Unsafe employee working conditions
Product/service performance issues
Who Is Contributing to This Harmful Content?
Spikes in harmful content are coming from all corners of the internet. To effectively prepare for and manage risks across social media, brands need to understand who is creating harmful content and putting them at risk.
Whether they are bad actors with malicious intent toward a company, trolls who are intentionally antagonizing online community members, activists taking direct action against a brand, spammers, child groomers, state actors, or conspiracy theorists, there are countless people out there purposefully creating risks for organizations. As social media landscapes evolve, so do their attacks.
As they continue those attacks, this harmful content can spread like wildfire. We’ve found consumers are more likely to share news of a crisis on social media channels than they are even with a friend or family member face-to-face.
As well as brands continue to expand their social media presence, they are also expanding their social media advertising efforts. In fact, in our survey, 53% of executives say they are likely to spend more on paid social media in the next year as part of their efforts to increase sales.
The ads aren’t immune to the harmful content created on their brand-owned pages. As more and more people engage with this harmful content, created by instigators, it can turn a small issue into a viral crisis in a matter of hours, or even minutes, and infiltrate every area of a brand’s online presence, including social media advertising.
Nearly one in five harmful content topics originated from the comments section of the very social media ad that organizations are funding. Additionally, 38% of respondents say they have seen offensive or derogatory content on a brand’s owned social media page.
There’s a lot of harmful content reaching a lot of people across a lot of channels, and managing these risks effectively starts with identifying and understanding the instigators.
Brands Need to Act
Social media is both a valuable asset and an incredible vulnerability. Harmful social content can spread instantly to millions of people and spiral into a crisis for brands. However, social media can also be used to flag and address these crisis situations quickly, so brands need to prepare.
More than half of respondents say they are more likely to feel more skeptical towards organizations and their leadership as a result of the rise in false or harmful comments made online. Additionally, 56% of respondents say they are less likely to buy from a company or brand after seeing negative commentary online.
As well, 64% hold brands responsible for addressing inappropriate or harmful comments made on their owned social media pages. Additionally, 63% expect brands to address inappropriate or harmful content on their pages within an hour, with half of those people expecting it to be taken care of instantly.
And simply trying to manage this issue is not enough. Again, more than half 54% of respondents say that companies and brands are not doing enough currently to combat harmful comments made on their social media pages.
This issue is on the shoulders of the brands that are engaging online, and they need to act.