As the unfolding WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’ demonstrates, traditional protests have definitely moved into the online world. Marthinus Strydom, Marketing Director of McCarthy Motor Group, warns that we need to be aware of the fact that today, damage to companies, people and governments could come from online communities.
“On Wednesday top multinational companies and other organisations withdrew support for WikiLeaks and the result: a “cyberwar” of Internet activists who attacked its “enemies” web sites causing these corporate Web sites including Visa, Paypal and Mastercard, to become inaccessible or slow down markedly,” Strydom says.
“The real issue at heart here is that these organisations underestimated the power of today’s consumers who have become online activists – they either sing your praises or become cyber terrorists – your worst nightmare.
“In South Africa, a case in point is Woolworths attempting to remove a Christian Publication from its stores and being lambasted by an online community therefore having to keep the publication on its shelves.”
“Companies in South Africa need to take heed and plan strategically in terms of the scenarios that can happen online. These powerful super-consumers are able to voice their opinions very quickly via blogs and social media and will merge together for a common cause – as a group they pose a powerful threat to companies and brands.”
Consider the following staggering statistics which is growing daily: there are an approximate total of six-million web users in SA. A total of 14-million WAP users (those who use their mobile to access the web) across all three SA networks. There are 500-million Facebook users in the world – if it were a country it would be the third biggest on earth… in just four years! In South Africa there are three-million South Africans on Facebook and this is growing daily with 50% logging in daily.
“Companies that pull the wool over their eyes and think this can’t happen to them must think again. It is and it will. Consumers now have the same, if not more, marketing power as any organisation’s marketing team and online activists can damage a company, brands or people, within a matter of hours,” he says.
Managing Director of strategic communications company, Livewired PR, Janine Lloyd, concurs: “It is imperative for organisations to understand the power of these super-consumers and strategically consider the impact and reaction from these consumers to their business decisions. This kind of crises should not have happened. Did these organisations engage the communications experts to provide counsel on the impact of the collective decision to withdraw support for WikiLeaks? Probably not. Would the outcome have been any different? Probably.”
“Marketers and business leaders need to get up to speed with the digital world and its enormous power. We need to understand and plan strategically to integrate the digital world into our thinking and actions. Making critical business decisions without consideration or dialogue with audiences online is a big mistake,” she says.
“Understanding that we have little control or power over what consumers say is one of the basic truths in communications today, however companies must learn to engage and consider their online communities. They must even consider changing their business decisions based on the huge negative impact today’s super-consumer can have on their brands, company or people.”