Brand Certainty: Sticks and Stones and Social Media Storms

Social media is both a company’s greatest ally and worst foe. In an age where the smallest incident can become viral headline news, brand image has become as much an asset protection responsibility as a marketing message. Post-event management is no longer enough. Companies need the same preventive measures they apply to the rest of their critical assets.

Whoever came up with the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” apparently didn’t foresee the challenge of managing brand image in the age of social media.

Today, you can’t throw a stick or a stone without witnessing some form of public opinion brand burning. Sometimes the genesis is a high-level yet misguided “good” idea, and sometimes it comes from the actions of a single employee.

It is, of course, one thing to shake our heads over a company that appears not to know their paying customers. Regardless of fallout, at least the decision was strategic. At those times, we can at least assume they know something that we don’t.

The situation, however, is entirely different when the social media storm is the result of a single location or single employee’s actions. Things like fights, outrageous violations of customer service (or human decency), heroin stashes in to-go cups, or using the business as a platform for social justice reform. I guess the last can fall into either category.

My point is that although we can’t control or account for every potential action or event that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to prevent those situations.


Adverse social media storms are part of the new reality. Everything that happens has excellent potential for going viral. The bigger the brand, the bigger the possibility. However, even for the less known brands, if the type of issue correlates to the latest headline news, there is an excellent chance they’ll be made an example of. For good or bad, suddenly a single store making cupcakes or pizza is national news.

Social media storms are a part of the new reality. As common to consumer-facing brands as employee theft, shoplifting, burglary, and robbery. With losses just as difficult to recoup.

But, again, we’re not powerless to prevent and deter brand image disasters. Once we accept these events for what they are — a crisis — we can take preventative steps to stave off the worst of it. Also, when an incident does occur, we can authentically claim that we do everything within reason to prevent the offending action.

It’s a new way of thinking and one that perhaps all companies haven’t considered.


The average cost of a burglary is about $2,600, and according to the NRSS report the average robbery involves around $5,000.  And with 85% of retailers reporting, they have cybersecurity measures in place a lot of money, time, and resources are invested in the prevention and protection from these types of crimes.

We wouldn’t think of leaving a store unlocked overnight any more than we’d have a register tape print the complete credit card number on a receipt.

Yet the potential for a social media storm is higher (and certainly takes far less skill) than a cyber-breach, and the cost of a public relations disaster is potentially far higher than a burglary.

The good news is prevention includes all the things we’re already well-practiced at and that are easily within our reach to implement. In other words, we have all the tools necessary to take a proactive and preventative approach to the potential problems.


Best practices can be summed up in three steps.

  1. Revisit and Revise that Code of Conduct: You might not think it’s necessary to tell people the things not to do that appear as common sense. History shows; however, assumptions are always bad practice. Call it customer service guidelines, if you’d like, but create a shareable document that covers the general basis of good store behavior.
  2. Train: Much like we did “back in the day” with sexual harassment (and probably need to revisit), we ensured that employees understood the potential perception of their actions and behaviors. Based on things I’ve seen, it’s not a waste of time to explain to an employee that punching a rude customer in the face is not the appropriate response.
  3. Monitor and Measure: You have a company monitor your store alarm, you probably should watch and measure compliance to brand standards. Audits, mystery shops, brand standard inspections are all tools that can alert you to the small things that could become very large.


Our new reality is that names will hurt your brand just as severely as those proverbial sticks and stones. Hey but we still fall back on another bit of sage advice—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

HS Brands offers an excellent, cost-effective Social Media Monitoring software solution. Give us a call, reach out via email, or our website for a quick demonstration of its powers and cost!

About the Author

Raymond Esposito has over 30 years of loss prevention experience, working within the department store, specialty, and grocery segments of retail. He has developed loss prevention programs for over 130 retailers in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Connecticut and is an expert witness.

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