One of the more popular topics in China these days is the impact of social media.
It’s popular (in my eyes) for two reasons. The first is that firms in China see the potential in the platform as a way to reach consumers, and develop loyalty. The other is the fact that social media has proven very powerful as a catalyst in civil society engagement.
For firms, it is the combination of these two that has recently become difficult to balance. Particularly as consumers, who were only only focused on the luxury of an item, or having the latest and greatest, are now beginning to look for more in a brand. It is still early days in this trend, like many other parts of the world, but for firms that have been caught in the cross hairs of consumer ire, the effects have been noticeable.
GUCCI has been once of those firms. Twice.
Last month it was a case of several former GUCCI employees publishing a letter to management online detailing labor abuse, and this week it was the confessions of another former employee about GUCCI selling second hand bags to unsuspecting consumers.
Both issues were inflamed through the various social media, and regardless of whether or not the accusations were true or not, GUCCI has been forced into a very unsettling position. A position where they have to act fast, communicate the “reality” of the situation to the market, and find ways to mitigate any damage that these stories may have on their market here in China.
The most important market in the world right now for luxury goods.
Which leads me to my point. Regardless of whether or not firms are themselves actively engaged online, or have a social media strategy, firms need to begin looking at how they are positioned from a CSR/ sustainability view point. These tools, regardless of the amount of money and time invested, can quickly turn against the firm, particularly if the firm only views these channels as a way to push information out to the market vs. understand how the market can push the brand in times of crisis… and how the market can push the government to act.