Social media platforms have been flooded with tweets, status updates, images, and videos tagged or associated with the #Occupy movement. A majority of the content is harmless, but in recent days attention is being drawn to seriously provocative or incriminating content against one or both sides. Protesters and authorities operate aware that their actions are being publicly broadcasted through these outlets. The world is recognizing that through the vast size and power of these platforms, one tweet or a few seconds of video footage have the potential to cause irreparable damage to the reputation of an individual or an organization.
Aside from messages of political charge and class unrest, one dramatic message that the #Occupy movements have brought to light is the fact that social media remains largely unregulated in its relative infancy. For years, the FCC and the FTC have tightly regulated advertising to prevent false information, defamation, slander, and other kinds of damaging information, whether founded or unfounded. These rules generally do well to protect brands from attacks across traditional media, but the same cannot be said about social networks. In the online space, users are able to criticize others with great freedom.
Accordingly, brands must engage social media with a certain level of trepidation; careful measures must be taken to ensure that the message broadcast to these enormous and greatly diverse audience is consistent and authentic. Whereas the advertising realm has become formalized and civilized, the battle for beneficial digital or social media marketing is more akin to a turf war. One misstep can be highly destructive to brand affecting customer loyalty. The volatility of the #Occupy movement should be a warning signal for brands. Social media is a powerful yet unstable force, and will remain so until the regulatory environment matures.