Paradigm Mall issue: My social media perspective
By now, many of you who are active on the Malaysian social mediascape would have heard about the disaster on Paradigm Mall’s Facebook page a week ago. In response to complaints about elevators at the new shopping mall, someone with administrator access to the page took a rather unpopular tone – sarcasm.
Such a reaction didn’t go down well with many people, and this lead to the General Manager of WCT Land (which I assume owns the mall) Ben Chong issuing a public apology.
Naturally, following such a “disaster”, the media took to analysing the situation. In an article posted in The Malaysian Insider, columnist Edwin Yapp (also the co-founder of the new tech portal Digital News Asia) explored the issue by asking, as the headline goes, “Is social media monitoring bereft of common sense, professionalism?”
He explains that such behaviour is not new to social media across the globe (those of us who have been keeping tabs on the Malaysian scene might remember a couple of previous occurrence over the years as well). He also quoted my friends Teoh Mei Ying and Kal Joffres, both social media consultants, who shared what I think many of us who work with social media would agree with – that such a reaction from a corporation using social network sites like Facebook to promote its brand was a big mistake.
I don’t disagree with the essence of the article, and my friends’ comments. That said, I do wonder about Edwin’s comment about the apology, saying that “the damage to the mall’s reputation has already been done”. This is a different digital culture issue to be explored, in that I often think there is a kind of disconnect in these cases; how many of those who are upset are actually existing and potential customers and if they are, how many will really end up boycotting the place because of this incident?
I was also thinking about Mei Ying’s comment about “never to let things get personal”. While I totally understand what she means, I was thinking about the irony in that choice of words considering social media is extremely “personal” and I do think that if the offending administrator had taken a more personal approach to responding to complaints, things might have unfolded differently.
But I digress. What I am more interested stems from a conversation I had with my friend Jui Hong on Twitter regarding an article in Campaign Asia-Pacific titled: Paradigm Mall Malaysian experiences downside of Facebook ‘magic’.
The article is now only available for subscribers so I can’t get you the exact words, but when I read it the other day, there was a quote from the PR agency of Paradigm Mall who explained that there wasn’t much it could do because it wasn’t handling social media for the Mall. Jui Hong alluded to this quote when he asked on his own Twitter account:
The conversation we had was in response to the question in his following tweet: “Do PR agencies have a responsibility to act on social media crisis, when they are NOT responsible for Social Media communication?” As an owner of a PR agency, this issue was clearly important to him. I was intrigued by it however because I feel that it brings to the forefront issues that I haven’t encountered too often in the discourse about social media.
Advocates of social media have been going on and on about how brands should embrace it and how this is the future of marketing. Following this incident, I am wondering if it is time we spoke more about how this is affecting the practices of other media institutions (besides the press)?
I feel that for too long, we have been advocating social media as a marketing tool – and rightly so. But I also feel sometimes we forget that there is more to marketing than just selling a brand. When I am invited to speak to businesses about social media, and when I share with my Marketing and Publicity students, I often remind them that social media does not exist in a bubble.
Even after these past few years, I still hear from people who believe that social media is this magical tool that will help brands win over the world. But when we really think about the things that we use social media for in this context – advertising, publicity, public relations among others – are these not facets of marketing?
Granted, the rules may have changed a lot due to the nature of such technologies (I hesitate to use the term “new” these days) but at the end of the day, most of the things we do with social media in this context goes back to those basic principles.
So, when a PR consultant notices what is essentially a PR disaster, albiet on less traditional platform, should they just sit back and wash their hands clean of the situation?
I understand that there are politics and intricacies in the relationships between different agencies contracted to do what might be perceived to be different tasks, but I think that two questions need to be asked:
1. Do agencies with certain specialties not have the responsibility to at least advice the clients – if not other agencies also serving the same clients – on the best approach to deal with certain situations, especially when there is expertise to be shared? In the context of Paradigm Mall, I wouldn’t want to assume that the PR agency had not communicated with its clients, but that quote by the PR consultancy about how it was not in its jurisdiction implies that they didn’t (or couldn’t) act.
2. Should agencies work in isolation, or should they put more effort in collaborating with one another particularly where it is in the client’s best interest (and whose responsibility is it to ensure this – the agencies or the client)? Or, to take this one level further, is it time for clients to expect (more firmly) a certain cooperation within its various agencies?
With my second question, what I am wondering is whether social media is changing the traditional separation of tasks between advertising, PR, marketing and more recently “digital” agencies? I am not for a minute implying that there is never any kind of communication between these agencies – I know for a fact that often, clients bring all their agencies together – but as the Paradigm Mall incident clearly illustrates, such processes is not always practiced.
I don’t have a solution other than suggesting much more communication, and more collaboration, between the agencies in the current framework that we operate within. Whether or not a new framework is necessary in the current digital age, I leave it to you.
It just concerns me that after a few years (how much longer can we get away with talking about how social media is so new that we’re still figuring things out?), we are still making the same errors – as the Paradigm Mall saga has shown, or as in the other example cited by Edwin in his article – and doing so little about it (or feeling powerless).
If digital media as we currently know it is the present, and the future – and it most likely will be – then it’s time we caught up.
p/s I’d love to hear what you guys think, especially those of you working in agencies. Bouquets and brickbats welcome in the comments section. Can’t guarantee I won’t reply sarcastically though!
12.10am Greenwich Meridian Time