INSIGHT – The Newsletter of Conscious Business Australia (CBAU)
Welcome to this March edition of “INSIGHT” which is the newsletter version of our writings on Conscious Business theory, news, research and practice. Our aim is to raise the consciousness of the general and business sector with this newsletter and make our contribution of ushering in The New Economy which is founded on a deep set of values in practice, on sustainability and community contribution for core reasons of businesses existing in their community.
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BAD APPLES – The New Economy Lessons of Applebee’s Social Media Implosion
An aspect of traditional business practice that increasingly cannot be kept behind closed doors is the treatment of individual staff by the leaders and managers of a business. It is not uncommon that a large business may invest considerable money in developing its branding and the brand values and related image.
However unless that company links the brand values to the true leadership and cultural values that are practiced inside the business, then the risk is that an incident, event or set of practices may occur or exist which expose the business as being wrong, unfeeling, inconsiderate, corrupt or deceitful.
In the area of Conscious Business we place in our Conscious Business Methodology that area of practice that concerns interactions between managers and their individual staff as an “I/WE” dynamic or quadrant. The emotional brand energy of any business is primarily played out in the one-to-one relationships that go on day to day, whether they be manager to staff member, staff member to customer, or staff member to another stakeholder (e.g. supplier).
Truly great businesses have the emotional intelligence that allows positive and constructive one-to-one relationships and interactions to take place without fear, recrimination, and which embody and practice the core values of that business.
When it goes wrong, as we see below in the Applebee example, we can find a ripple effect of how an internal issue flows into the outside environments (“ITS”) and how poor use of communication tools (“IT”) can amplify the issue to a crisis that in the New Economy can seriously damage a company’s image and business income.
Many businesses have been successful in the Old Economy in maintaining their projected brand values in the hearts and minds of the community. They have often built their brands using effective branding and marketing strategies that were based on “inside out “thinking”.
This form of command and control is the traditional way of attempting to create perception from the “inside” and then to control and evoke the sentiment and goodwill of the consumers “out there”. In the past any poor decision making within a business was not always so transparently revealed to outsiders.
This may be at the owner/leadership levels through self serving or dysfunctional behaviours, lack of knowledge or skills, or a systemic set of issues around process and systems that would have created a negative impact if known by consumers. Research reveals that most business issues relate to the human element and not the business process, systems or mechanistic side of the business model.
What is not apparent to many businesses is how far and how quickly the pendulum has swung in terms of the “inside out” approach to business being hijacked by the enabling of an “outside in” campaign through the internet and normally via social media. This new dynamic is controlled and executed by outsiders who tend to ignore and even amplify their critical feedback when a business attempts to regain the agenda through command and control techniques.
Applebee is a dominant American café chain who have about 2,000 outlets employing some 28,000 people across the United States. They have a prominent brand whose brand value has been carefully built up over time as they expanded. They have a replicated or targeted a form of a “customer experience” in a general sense that underpins their brand experience.
In the Old Industrial Economy it was more or less true that if an incident occurred at one outlet of any major national chain or brand then the chance of it going viral due to on-reporting and becoming part of mass consciousness was slim. Because of this many business sins never made it into the public domain and so businesses were not so mindful of their local behaviours in local communities.
In the New Economy we find that the brand equation has drastically transformed to a new position where the consumer and the public at large control the company brand. How can this be true?
The advent of the internet and the rising levels of living standards and education in consumer communities worldwide has been a game changer for businesses. The average consumer now operates from a higher consciousness than just satisfying survival needs and they are now turning their attention to higher aspiration needs and concerns.
The advent of online and mobile technologies allow for the average person to report on their own personal day to day experiences in a way not previously possible. The advent of social media sites has brought collective audiences into an arena where the “little people” stories carry resonance, empathy and meaning for others.
The online access to information and commentary has proven to have elevated the average consumer to a savvy place of attitude, opinion, and the ability through search engines like Google, to check the validity of information placed in front of them as fact. Even if you do not have an opinion there are multitudes who do about any subject raised online.
As consumers self-educate and become more self-aware and community conscious there is an emerging informal protocol of “neighbourhood watch” in a digital sense. Research also shows consumers are increasing looking to partner with brands who express key values that positively engage the local community through contribution, ethical practice, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability.
Likewise we find that consumers and communities are protesting when local businesses act inappropriately. The “outing” of a business behaving badly can go viral if it taps into consumer or community sentiment about a theme or issue that have more than just a local emotional resonance or impact.
A business who would participate in the local digital community as part of its brand promotion and marketing must understand what is the online etiquette and the transparency by which it will be examined by others. If a company lacks values, behaves badly, or tries to manipulate consumers through its social media presence then it is at risk of being “outed” and shamed, and may suffer considerable reputation and brand damage as a result.
The story of Applebee highlights some of these key drivers and dynamics and is a case in point for how New Economy ways of being, doing and behaving are critical for business success. In this story we see how the dismissal of a single employee for conduct mirrored to it by the company itself in other ways, led to a spiralling crisis where Applebee would have wished it had thought through it treatment of its employee, and how it engaged with the digital community as a consequence to a storm of protest.
For the full technical version of this article follow this link BAD APPLES – The New Economy Lessons of Applebee’s Social Media Implosion