Saving Face: Brands Are You Ready to Backtrack Fast?

As a consumer, it’s easy to feel sometimes that corporations are indifferent to the desires of their customers. Rather, it seems that all companies really care about are the interests of shareholders. That’s why taking creative risks or doing things to appeal directly to consumer goodwill only happens if shareholders agree or it’s good for a company’s bottom line.
While that still may be true in some sense, we’re starting to see the effect that the widespread use of social media has on brand transparency. There have been a few examples recently of brands that have had to majorly—and quickly—backtrack on company plans due to public outcries.
To be fair, there have always been examples of customers complaining to the brands they buy from, in the form of protests, letters, or returns. But the sheer visibility and amplification pattern of backlashes on social media means that companies have become more likely to respond to this customer backlash in a swift manner. Once a backlash has gone viral or close to it, there is not much a company can do but to act fast.
The first recent example of a company doing an about-face on a policy that has proved immediately unpopular is WhatsApp. In February, WhatsApp replaced its text away message feature with the “Status” feature, which was essentially a carbon copy of Snapchat Stories. At this point, there have been so many rip offs of Snapchat Stories by other social networks that TechCrunch has given it the phenomenon a name: “Snapchatification.” Users who were fans of the away message feature immediately backlashed, which caused WhatsApp to reinstate text statuses in the Android Beta version of WhatsApp, and announced plans to roll out a similar thing for the iPhone version soon.
In a statement, WhatsApp explained the backpedal: “We heard from our users that people missed the ability to set a persistent text-only update in their profile, so we’ve integrated this feature into the ‘About’ section in profile settings. Now, the update will appear next to profile names anytime you view contacts, such as when creating a new chat or looking at Group info.”
The statement is notable because it came quickly after the new feature rolled out and the company admitted that they had been in error when removing a popular feature. TechCrunch contextualized the backlash amidst the Snapchatificiation phenomenon: “WhatsApp’s new Snapchat-style Status stories haven’t received as much blowback from users as Facebook Messenger Day because WhatsApp sticks the feature in a separate tab instead of at the top of the list of active threads. But replacing a utilitarian communication feature with a whimsical content-based one broke the behavior patterns of too many users, so now WhatsApp is giving them both.”
Another example of backlash-fueled changes comes from Samsung. Samsung has had a tough go of things in the last year and a half, with exploding phones being the kind of scandal that any hardware company would struggle to recover from. When the company announced that it would be re-releasing the Galaxy Note 7 into the world after solving the problem that prompted its recall, environmental groups hastened to point out that safely disposing of the old recalled model, as Samsung had planned to do, was an environmental catastrophe. In response to that criticism—and visible protests over the matter at the company’s Mobile World Congress press event—the company quickly announced it would sell refurbished versions of the phone to offset the environmental waste problem.
As TechCrunch explained, it’s likely that the quick move from the company came so they could avoid the focus being on exploding phones in an important week for the brand: “Samsung’s set to announce the Galaxy S8, its first major release since everything went down with the Note 7. Samsung has spent the months in the lead up to the release of its new handset pushing its newly instituted safety precautions, starting with a global press conference in which it discussed its findings and culminating with an aggressive ongoing ad campaign. At the very least, it’s likely managed to avoid a repeat of February’s press conference protester.”