Brands care about what is being said online. If they didn’t they wouldn’t respond to customers. They wouldn’t design social campaigns that create buzz. If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t use social listening tools to pinpoint specific reactions to their brands. They care.
It’s usually the loudest people in the room who get the most attention. In the world of social media, that’s a big room, with a global population, and as we know now bots and political actors. Bot and Russian troll activity have been well documented when it comes to politics. The goal is to sow discord. There were bots and trolls on Twitter and Facebook that created pages and profiles on both sides of the aisle. That’s the only way to deepen divides among groups that already distrusted each other. So what happens when politics and sports intertwine on a huge hot-button issue? According to a recent report, the bots and trolls get involved.
Normally leagues and the brands associated with sports properties would prefer to keep the product as a form of escapism. It’s a lot easier to advertise to people who are looking to get away from their problems or get excited about something outside of the mundane. These viewers and fans are in better moods. They are happy to be watching the contest of their choosing. This can create a positive brand connection between the advertiser and the viewer. In it’s most rudimentary form it’s: “I love football. I love pizza. I want the pizza I just saw on the football game.”
The problem is it works the other way as well. When it came to the anthem protest, for a certain percent of the population it was: “I hate anthem protests. I am mad at football. I am mad at the brand that associates itself with the NFL” or it was: “I don’t like that they blackballed Colin Kaepernick. I am mad at football. I am mad at the brand associated with the NFL.” That could cause fans to express their anger online. It is, in fact, very easy to get mad online. It’s also very easy to get even madder online when there are people stoking the anger flames.
Now let’s bring it back around. Brands pay close attention to what organizations they associate with. It would have been very easy to go online, see the divisiveness the protests during the anthem was causing, and then be concerned about a brands’ association with the NFL. Sure these people — which turned out to be bots and Russian trolls according to the report — don’t have a lot of influence and followers, but the number of tweets and comments can cause a subject to start trending. Then real people search trending topics and find tweets that look like they are from real people and get mad online. There’s a theme here.
That creates nervousness among decision makers who would much rather stay out of the fray and get back to the reason they signed up in the first place: association with an escapism property that creates a positive brand association and increases sales.
That can’t happen if there’s a perception that there are a lot of loud people in the social media room, making a lot of social media noise about a specific brand association or league. Until Twitter and Facebook figure out a way to control trolls and bots, the sheer amount of comments might make subjects seem like a bigger deal than they actually are.
It also means that the data brands and leagues like the NFL use can be easily corrupted. It means that higher-ups should have been worrying about bot and troll influence more than they should have worried about how the actual issue was affecting the bottom line. It means that any rudimentary social listening on a divisive subject should be taken with an entire ocean of salt.
Leagues and associated brands now know this information. The good news is they are educated and will understand that some issues aren’t as big as the social media mob makes them seem. The bad news is that, in some cases, information/data gleaned from social media may be tainted or worse, completely useless.