Social media firestorms are a headache for brands and a boon for PR firms and agencies well-versed in responding to crisis. And with use of social media platforms only growing, they're not likely to go away any time soon.
But not all social media firestorms are the same.
Bic is learning that as it faces a unique social media backlash. As detailed by Adweek, the maker of ballpoint pens is dealing with a flurry of reviews on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk for a pen that has been on the market for some time:
...women (and some men) are flooding the Amazon.co.uk product page for "Bic for Her" pens with comically reverent five-star reviews, and some just-as-funny one-star ones. The pens—which are described right there in the technical specs as being "designed to fit comfortably in a woman's hand" with an "attractive barrel design available in pink and purple"—have been around for a while, but this wave of backlash is just gathering steam.
Most of the reviews have a sarcastic bent ("Finally, a pen that's perfect for her birthday/anniversary/christmas/etc."), but a few are serious ("There is nothing special about these pens. They are regular, cheap Bic pens that come in pastel colors that supposedly appeal to women.").
And while these reviews may have been sparked by a 2011 Jezebel.com blog post, as Adweek notes, it appears something has prompted a growth in reviews in the past several days.
What should Bic do?
The big question: what should Bic do? As with most social media firestorms, the answer isn't obvious.
At this point, the 'backlash' against Bic for Her is better described as an exercise in sarcasm, and while this could be the start of something bigger, it's worth keeping in mind that, at this moment, there are still under 200 reviews for the Big for Her pen on Amazon.com.
This said, Bic for Her highlights several important things that all brands should keep in mind:
- Social media isn't just Facebook and Twitter. Any site that provides for user-generated content can be a platform for protest.
- Firestorms don't have to be an acute phenomenon. As noted, Bic for Her is not a new product line and its existence wasn't first observed in a major way yesterday. Yet, for reasons not entirely known at this time, consumers have decided to take to Amazon now to point out the absurdity of Bic's creation.
- A backlash isn't always angry. Many social media firestorms are to varying degrees angry. But not every firestorm will have fire. Here, consumers are poking fun at Bic using sarcasm, not anger.