Are there certain industries that shouldn’t be using Social Media?

There have been so many articles in recent years about why companies should be harnessing Social Media – most of these articles have been written by industry professionals like myself attempting to secure business. These articles often talk about the benefits for lead generation, developing online communities and securing brand reputation – all entirely acceptable and credible reasons for looking to integrate Social Media into a larger marketing and communications strategy. So, with this in mind I’ve decided to take an alternate approach and look at some industries and situations where Social Media simply might not be appropriate.

A robust Social Media strategy can reap huge rewards for a brand without too much expense and increasingly, customers expect their brands to be online and discoverable on the likes of Twitter or Facebook. However, there are simply times when a brand engages with Social Media when it might have been best to have never engaged in the first place.

NOTE: Now first of all, it’s not a concept that sits comfortably with me – to not have a Social Media presence because you *might* get some negative feedback is pretty poor. Brands will always encounter negativity, whether they’ve been dumping litres of oil into primary school playgrounds or a generous act of charity. Simply hiding isn’t advisable as you won’t have any room to try control and deal with the situation – and if your brand does suddenly join Twitter, it will be seen as “far too late” and reactionary. What brands have to do is take a balanced look at the reasons why to have, or not to have, a Social Media presence. Most of the time, this will lean heavily toward the positive reasons, but in some rare cases – it might be better not to draw too much attention to their businesses:

Weapons contractors/Firearms

Obviously a controversial and sensitive industry, is there any real need for Social Media? Critics cite that any attempts to promote or make weapons the norm via Social Media are morally wrong and that weapon companies shouldn’t be allowed any platform to market online – especially where a younger an more susceptible audience dominates. One has to ask, even if weapon companies used Social Media – what would they talk about? Sponsorship for sporting events like target shooting? Corporate social responsibility initiatives? Gun maintenance infographics? As a sector described as the “industry of death” – should they really be really trying to engage and highlight their business to the often volatile and critical Social Media audience.

Pay-day loans

Already common on broadcast television, should this industry be active on Social Media as well? Undoubtedly, these types of companies can use Social Media for lead generation and raising awareness of their services. However, should they really be using Social Media to market? In 2008, Anti-Payday loans group Credit Action made a complaint to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) about payday loan companies that were placing adverts on Facebook. The group stated that the companies were breaking advertising regulations by not clearly displaying all the required legal information. This begs the question – on social, where it’s often hard to crunch all the necessary terms and conditions in 140 characters – can it ever work?

Tobacco

If there was ever an industry that definitely shouldn’t be opening itself to almost immediate criticism, it’s the tobacco industry. For the most part, the perception of tobacco companies is one of mistrust – whether that’s their marketing to encourage smoking or the controversial methods/money they use to lobby on a a political and social level. Any content produced by Tobacco companies is likely to receive huge negativity and criticism.

However, in recent years Facebook has notably relaxed restrictions on tobacco brands from promoting on their platform – perhaps cynically Facbook know that there’s a lot of money to be made. Tobacco companies currently face a huge amount of advertising regulation offline, so this is probably why we wouldn’t expect them on Social Media just now.

Mining

Generally speaking the mining industry doesn’t have the cleanest reputation – whether it’s mining for coal or diamonds – the issue of mining into the heart of the planet’s crust will always cause issue with environmentalists. Importantly, environmentalists are increasingly becoming more and more influential, vociferous and powerful on Social Media. It is likely that any mining brand who uses Social Media will open themselves to attack for their mining methods and the harm it may cause to the environment. For the most part the general perception of the mining industry is that it’s bad (although we still consume and use their products and service son a daily basis). This public perception, combined with the influence of socially savvy environmentalists – makes Social Media a potentially hazardous place for their company to be operating on. Sometimes, the less said the better.

Should these industries be using Social Media – probably they should be, but more than any other business they need to ensure they know why they are using it and how they will cope with a high risk of Social Media negativity  What other industries need to be careful using Social Media? Leave your thoughts in the comments.-

Sean Walsh (@walshybhoy)  is Head of Social Media at Digital Marketing Agency Blueclaw in Leeds and editor of Football Social Media blog Digital-Football.com.