Social media, whether you like it or not, is about conversations. For brands, that can be a headache. Especially when people are angry with your brand and talking about it. But marketers should take solace: there are much worse things they could be doing.

At SxSW this weekend, the panelists at Does My Sh*t-Talking Really Help Your Brand? panel were agreed: it does.

Last year at SxSW, a panel discussing the worst social media failures of the year quickly devolved into a debate over what constitutes a social media failure. Many brand campaigns that draw the ire of users end up bringing about positive change at a company. Others, like the “Burger Sacrifice” campaign from Burger King that Facebook pulled from its site, turn mixed reactions into increased brand awareness and consumer identification.

And negative comments and articles don’t always have a negative effect on sales.  

Michael Monello, partner and ECD at Campfire, pointed out that one often cited social media failure, a Proctor and Gamble’s digital campaign that is often referred to as “Motrin Mommies,” actually had no effect on sales. No one seemed to notice the brand’s missteps — “outside of the people who were within the social media echo chamber.”  

A bigger issue for most brands is that the social media team is completely separated from the decision makers at a company.

In the case of Motrin, the company pulled the offending ad and set to work addressing the problems taht led to it. But Monello says that for many social media marketers: “The biggest frustration is often how
to effect change without having access to the rest of the company.”

Hiring a “social media guru” and giving him access to Twitter is not going to lead to a successful social strategy. Mostly because social media is not just another marketing channel. It’s a way to communicate with consumers. And that feedback needs to be actionable to succeed.

Ivan Askwith, director of strategy at Big Spaceship, says “If shit talking can help your brand, it can only do it if it can be communicated outside of the marketing department.”

Ford, director of digital strategy at Peppercom, says that social media “can be
helpful if the infrastructure is in place to do something about it.” But many brands are setting up a social media feed and walking away from the problems that consumers want resolved. 

“If you don’t have the ability to fix something,” says Ford. “Don’t promise you will.”

Brands need to work on institutional changes, and responding to feedback if they really want to capitalize on social. If they’re not doing that, they could end up with a much bigger problem: silence. 

“Failure in social media doesn’t often look like pissing people
off. It looks like irrelevance,” says Askwith: “Take any global brand
with under 500 fans or followers. It’s not doing something right.”

Image: Burger King