In today’s digital age, social media has become a major communication channel for many companies, and the use of social media in marketing efforts has increased significantly
Experts believe that companies need to be mindful of their communication without triggering certain sections of society
Startups today need to have a set of guidelines to govern their use of social media
For many startups, 2022 has been the year of social media trials. Whether it was a viral tweet, a controversial Instagram post, or a heated Facebook debate, these startups found themselves in the choppy waters of controversies on the internet, facing the music for their actions.
One wrong move led to a swift boycott of their products and the founders were held accountable for not maintaining a high standard of decorum on the internet. While some were lucky to have a narrow escape, others had to issue apologies, make changes to their policies, or even suffer financial loss.Download Annual Funding Report 2022
What followed next was that several Indian entrepreneurs started focusing on being safer than sorry in executing their communication strategies in a world where everyone has the power of the internet.
Further, with the rise of a call-out culture – in which citizens are being seen exercising their power to call out for a ban, boycott or reject – it has become all the more imperative for advertising and public relations agencies to be mindful of the values and beliefs of their client’s target audience.
“Brands have always taken bold risks to promote their products. In fact, consumers associate with brands that take their promotion a notch higher, ignoring the risk factor completely. But social media and opinions are right now at par, and we [startups] have to be mindful of our communication without triggering a section of society,” NOFILTR Group’s marketing chief Hitarth Dadia said.
As 2022 comes to an end, let’s dive deep into the bizarre and sometimes outrageous stories of companies, which have faced social media trials this year and attracted a lot of flak from their target audience.
Meet The Startups Sucker Punched On The Internet In 2022
BharatPe: The Most Talked-About Event Of 2022
At the beginning of 2022, BharatPe’s cofounder Ashneer Grover gained popularity as a ‘Shark’ in the first season of the Indian version of the reality TV show, ‘Shark Tank’. While many fans appreciated his candid and straightforward approach, some critics felt that he was unnecessarily rude to the contestants on the show.
Despite mixed reactions, Grover made a lasting impression and soon turned into a celebrity. Problems arose in January 2022 when he faced backlash after an audio clip in which he allegedly used foul language went viral on social media.
Even though Grover cleared his stance, claiming that the audio was fake and an attempt to extort money from him, he continued receiving flak online. The hashtag ‘Uninstall BharatPe’ trended on Twitter as people reacted to the controversial audio clip.
Bombay Shaving Company Shamed For Promoting Hustle Culture
In September 2022, Shantanu Deshpande, the CEO of Bombay Shaving Company, caused a stir when he suggested that young people should work for 18 hours a day without complaining (‘rona dhona’).
Deshpande faced significant backlash on social media for his comment and his advice was widely criticised, sparking a debate about office work culture. Netizens called him several names and condemned his ideology and Bombay Shaving Company’s culture for promoting ‘slavery’.
His LinkedIn post was shared on many social media platforms – mainly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Following this, in another post, Deshpande wrote that the controversy had given him and his company “more than INR 20 Cr worth of PR as some critics worked very hard to comment and share hate on every possible platform and post over and over again.”
While many supported him, Deshpande, shortly after the backlash, acknowledged that his comment may have been supportive of exploitation.
Marketing-Hungry BYJU’s Criticised For What It Sowed
It has been a tough year for edtech startups, especially BYJU’S. Amid valuation cuts, BYJU’S laid off nearly 4K employees, sparking a two-fold debate back in November 2022.
Firstly, employee unions accused the Bengaluru-based startup of unethical layoffs. Secondly, the startup’s rising marketing expenses, including its FIFA sponsorship and Lionel Messi signing up as its brand ambassador, invited questions on how the company spends its money.
Throughout the year, several eminent political personalities also took interest in the startup and called for a financial investigation into the startup. Further, ‘Ban BYJU’S’ trended every now and then during the year.
Dunzo Received Flak For Threatening Its Workers
Since the second half of 2022, Dunzo delivery workers have been protesting the work culture of the quick commerce company. Dunzo’s delivery workers first went on a strike due to issues like changes in incentives, plans to reduce the number of riders in a part of Bengaluru and a requirement to deliver more orders in a 10-hour-long work day.
What fuelled the controversy was a message from Dunzo, in July 2022, allegedly threatening to permanently suspend the workers who participate in the strike or support it. The strike had reportedly put the company’s 20-minute delivery service to a grinding halt.
Refuting that it had sent any such message, the company launched a probe into the same.
Mamaearth Caught In The Line Of Fire Saving Richa Chadha
Last month, ‘Boycott Mamaearth’ started trending after the beauty products company supported the tweet of its brand’s ambassador, Richa Chadha – ‘Galwan says Hi’ – which was taken as an act of mocking the Indian Army by many.
Providing a cover to its brand’s ambassador, the company tweeted, “Brand Mamaearth too does not support anyone mocking our Bravehearts. The words ‘Galwan says hi’ are not conclusive and we interpret this as a recall of the upper hand the Indian army had in such tough terrain and even outnumbered at the standoff.” The tweet was later deleted by the company. It was after this tweet that the company was caught in the line of fire and ‘Boycott Mamaearth’ started trending.
Following this, the company had to issue an apology. It tweeted, “Mamaearth sincerely regrets hurting any sentiments due to a poorly drafted comment on Twitter. We are a proud Indian company that respects and stands by our armed forces. We do not subscribe to the views shared by any individual who thinks otherwise.”
Finally, Mamaearth’s cofounder Ghazal Alagh took to Twitter and said, “We have unintentionally hurt a lot of people, truly sorry for it.”
When Friends Came To Rescue Meesho
In June, social media influencer Ravisutanjani Kumar created a collage of screenshots of Twitter posts and alleged that a smear campaign was being run against Meesho. Kumar put together similar tweets by several influencers, calling out false narratives run on social media platforms.
Later, Salt Pe founder Udita Pal and Polygon executive Aashima Arora posted screenshots of certain WhatsApp chats, which highlighted that the influencers were being paid to promote negative reviews about Meesho. The company added that some of these alleged influencers accepted that their tweets were sponsored, while others deleted their posts.
Jaymin Shah, the CEO of Socialgrid Media, was reportedly at the centre of the controversy, for which Meesho also took a legal recourse.
For several days, the concept of healthy rivalry was discussed on many social media platforms. But this yielded a new crop of problems, as many startups had now started coming to the fore, highlighting similar smear campaigns against them.
Pristyn Care Cofounder’s Ideology Denounced As Outdated, Toxic
In September, the cofounder of Pristyn Care, Harsimarbir Singh, posted a blurb outlining certain ‘interview hacks’ used at the healthtech company to filter out candidates. These hacks included making candidates wait for long periods in the office, scheduling interviews at inconvenient times and asking out-of-town candidates to come the very next day for their assessment.
The screenshot of the post was widely circulated and criticised on social media, with many professionals denouncing these practices as outdated and toxic. The post came close on the heels of Shantanu Deshpande’s advice of working 18 hours a day.
Rapido’s Year Of Shame
This year, the ride-hailing app, Rapido, got into two similar controversies in which two female passengers alleged that they were raped by the company’s riders. While the complainant was lying in one case, the police arrested the accused in the other.
Following this, many users took to social media and raised their voice against the startup’s inefficient operations.
Citizens also took cognizance of the way Rapido’s auto drivers operate. They highlighted that the vehicles used by them usually have a different registration number from the one mentioned on the startup’s platforms.
Amid Controversies, Swiggy Had The Last Laugh
Last year it was Zomato, and this year Swiggy, which remained embroiled in different levels of controversies throughout the year.
The year started with an unfortunate accident of a Swiggy delivery worker during a late-night delivery. The incident sparked a physical as well as an online strike, asking for better working conditions. The strike resulted in several deliveries being halted in Bengaluru, after which consumers started supporting Swiggy workers in their demands.
Later in July, a video surfaced from Mumbai in which a Swiggy delivery worker was seen riding a horse. The comical video sparked a fun conversation among netizens, making memes at the expense of the foodtech company.
The startup also attracted social media scrutiny after it acquired foodtech Dineout, resulting in a host of restaurants leaving the brand.
In September, when a tweet showing a customer specifically asking for a non-Muslim delivery worker surfaced, Swiggy’s comment won many hearts on the internet. In its reply to politician Mohua Moitra, Swiggy stated that there was no place for discrimination in its delivery universe.
When Zomato Hurt Hindu Sentiments
A controversy arose in Madhya Pradesh over a Zomato advertisement, featuring Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan. The ad referred to ‘Mahakal Thali’ and was perceived by some as implying that the food was connected to Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain. The priests of the temple objected to the ad, claiming that it offended Hindu sentiments.
Zomato issued a statement clarifying that the ad was referring to thalis from the ‘Mahakal Restaurant’ and not the temple, but by then, ‘Uninstall Zomato’ had already been trending on Twitter.
In an unrelated incident, a social media conversation, concerning Zomato, stole the hearts of netizens. A woman was seen delivering food to customers while carrying her toddler in her arms. The video moved many people who saw it. They expressed their admiration for the woman’s spirit and determination. Some people also tagged Zomato in the post, hoping to bring the video to the company’s attention.
Commenting on the post, Zomato said that it would like to help the delivery partner. Zomato’s quick response on Instagram was lauded by many.
Everyone Was Invested In How The Zilingo Saga Unfolded
The crisis at Zilingo, which included issues with revenue recognition, expansion into new markets and high cash burn, was reportedly exacerbated by a disagreement between the company’s founders, Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor.
What followed next was a saga that snowballed from mismanagement, sexual harassment cases, and millions of dollars burnt into a massive controversy that put the company’s existance at stake. An Inc42 report on the Zilingo saga decodes how the company and the founders were riddled with ideas and strategies but lacked operational vision.
Bose was subsequently ousted from the company for alleged ‘insubordination’. As of now, the startup is facing heat from creditors, employees leaving the company and an uncertain future of its hanging M&A plan.
Here’s the complete guide to the Zilingo saga, something that has been of interest to many since the issue first came to light in April 2022.
The Era Social Media Trials Has Just Started
In today’s digital age, social media has become a major communication channel for many companies, and the use of social media in marketing efforts has increased significantly. Consequently, it has become all the more important for companies to be mindful of the potential risks of their social media marketing and to have clear guidelines and policies in place to govern their use of social media.
“Even if there is an impactful, powerful or genius idea, and if there are a couple of people who find a brand’s approach inappropriate, they can influence a number of followers on social media,” NOFILTR Group’ Dadia said.
According to the cofounder and CEO of Digital ROI, Vikas Kumar Mangla, agencies as well as in-house marketing teams need to have strict guidelines to stay away from anything remotely political or religious. “Any untoward public comment by company executives can have serious repercussions,” Mangla said.
Industry experts say if there are no risks, advertisements turn out boring and cliche. Therefore, they see brands taking risks while being mindful and weighing the pros and cons.
[Edited By Shishir Parasher]Download Annual Funding Report 2022