In today’s social media environment, every action, every email, every business decision has the potential to be scrutinized in the public square. And that square is a lot larger and unforgiving than it used to be.

Over the past few weeks, Amazon and a Minnesota dentist found themselves standing trial in that public square. Amazon for allegations made by the New York Times about how the company allegedly treats employees, and the dentist for the illegal killing of a prized lion, named Cecil, in Zimbabwe. As it stands today, the reputations of both are under attack.

Both of these events are perfect examples of what happens when an individual or organization clashes with the values of a stakeholder group. They are in for an avalanche of negative social media attacks and potential loss of business. The dentist, for example, closed his office for weeks after he was identified as the hunter who killed Cecil. And Amazon is facing significant backlash from customers.

It used to be that when you got out of alignment with a stakeholder group that you would get letters and phone calls or a group of people might show up with protest signs at your front door. The modern day forum for unrest and disagreement is social media. What makes social media different than traditional protests is the speed, scope and intensity of the reaction. It has the potential to explode into a global news event in a matter of hours. As we have seen with Black Lives Matter, social media can quickly start and organize a national or global response. Because the reach and scale of social media the impact to your brand and reputation is truly unprecedented.

All CEOs, marketers and corporate communications professionals should take a new look at how well their corporate values align with those of their stakeholder groups. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what values these groups have assigned to your brand or company, you’re heading for trouble.

Business spends billions of dollars in market research trying to understand why someone buys their product or service. Yet they spend virtually nothing on understanding what values their customers, employees and other key stakeholders have assigned to the brand. Every time you read about backlash in social media or traditional media someone has violated the values of another group. Typically the response from a company spokesperson or CEO is “We had no idea.” That’s no longer an excuse; it simply makes you look out of touch or worse apathetic.

Jeff Bezos believed that Amazon customers only valued selection, service and cost. He was wrong. Today, in the aftermath of the scathing New York Times story about Amazon’s cutthroat culture, he’s finding out just how important the treatment of employees and working conditions are to customer loyalty. As a data-driven company, it’s amazing that Amazon didn’t realize this sooner. Bezos responded to the New York Times by saying he doesn’t recognize the Amazon described in the article. That doesn’t cut it. Amazon will need to reevaluate its corporate values and demonstrate that they are aligned with key stakeholders for this issue to be resolved. But for many customers, the damage is done and it will take years for Amazon to repair its reputation.

Social media might yet be the new “town square.” However, its reach goes far beyond the town, to encompass the globe. Understanding how to manage a company in this new reality has become one of the most important roles for all CEOs and marketers. In this new era of social media, companies and individuals who are deemed to have stepped out of line are far more public, far-reaching and, as a result, far more damaging to brands and reputation.

This blog was originally published on Huffington Post Business.


LEVEL is a brand strategy and advertising firm based in Minneapolis, MN.  Our client relationships are predicated on mutual respect and trust.  Through this lens, we are able to produce innovative and creative solutions.  Ultimately, we have been successful at fulfilling our goal – developing revenue-generating communications for our clients.

LEVEL has extensive healthcare experience and a comprehensive understanding of the nuances of purchasing decisions, how those decisions are affected by transitions in the healthcare landscape, and the effect of regulation.  Our passion for the healthcare industry is as important as our experience.  That passion has resulted in opportunities to help companies effectively communicate with payers, providers and end-users.  Our experience extends globally including Asia, Europe and North America.