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The Customer Service/Branding Control Dichotomy

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how does that translate into dollars and cents? Image-centric social media has been in the spotlight over the last week, first as Subway found themselves the recipient of two class-action suits over missing inches from their foot-long subs, stemming from a Facebook whistleblower, and now there are rumblings of some New York City restaurants banning photographs from within their walls. It’s fascinating to observe the awkward dance taking place between businesses and social media outlets as they adjust to a marketplace that is increasingly being driven on a peer-to-peer, consumer-dictated level. Still – in the case of NYC eateries, are social media platforms such as Instagram being unfairly ostracized in an attempt to control branding and restrict potential negative press?

Corporations such as Subway and McDonalds dedicate a sizable chunk of their annual budgets to their own branding; most notably, professional-grade photographs of the food items they offer. When customers have the ability to immediately upload pictures of their meals to Instagram or Facebook, in a positive or negative light, do they negate the funding allocated for that same purpose?

A fundamental characteristic to maintaining an exemplary public-image, whether as a corporate chain or independently-owned restaurant, is the capability to control your brand. When patrons begin conducting their own ‘brand marketing’ via social media, it creates an interesting quandary for businesses who are toeing the line between keeping their customers happy and protecting their products.

And while some establishments are seeking to limit their online exposure, others have embraced it, and even turned adverse PR into successful marketing strategies. Domino’s famously conducted a risky, but beneficial, advertising campaign where they encouraged pictures of poorly made or delivered pizzas. As opposed to casting their corporation in a negative light, the tactic illuminated the company’s commitment to their clientele and their concerns, and displayed their dedication to getting things right. By demonstrating a refreshing level of honesty rarely seen in Corporate America, the pizza conglomerate reignited the public’s passion for their food, and may have saved a company that was experiencing rapid loss of brand-loyalty.

Whichever side of the social media fence business owners or CEOs sit, there’s no longer denying the commercial impact that it has. While some New York restaurants may attempt to restrict their diners’ photographic freedoms in the name of product-control, they may also experience a loss of support as a result. What are your opinions on Instagram and Facebook pictures in restaurants and private businesses?

-Carter Breazeale


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