The Daily Mail, Ed Miliband and corporate trolling

So, the Daily Mail has done it again - the pantomime villain of national newspapers has gleefully kicked off a storm of outrage with its nasty piece on Ed Miliband's father.

Daily Mail: Building a panto brand
Daily Mail: Building a panto brand

Now it can sit back and enjoy the wave of vitriol, publicity and increased site visits as a result. Obviously it has got form in this area, so why does it do it?

The ABC of corporate reputation management is quite clear – to be a successful brand, others need to like or respect you, what you do and what you stand for.

It is important that you avoid alienating or annoying other people as this will fundamentally distract from the business of them liking or respecting you.

One consequence of this is organisations have traditionally gone out of their way to avoid annoying or upsetting people, mostly by being as bland as possible.

That was fine when brands and organisations were remote from the audiences surrounding them, but in our wired up world blandness is now the enemy of effective corporate reputation – we all want to see the human, the personality behind the brand.

Communicating like a real person, being open, having a dialogue, being prepared to admit mistakes, having a laugh – these are now all important tools in building a strong corporate reputation.

The Daily Mail, and Ryanair as another example, take a rather more extreme approach to building personality and rapport – they are not looking just to humanise their brand, they seem to go out of their way to encourage people to hate or get annoyed by them – they are effectively taking the trolling model and applying it to corporate reputation, a social media version of the old adage that all publicity is good publicity.

And it works – but really only for a while. Outrage, in our Twittered world, is a valuable commodity, but it is subject to inflation.

Once you’ve announced that you are thinking of charging fat people more, or done a hatchet job on the dead, you’ve really got nowhere to go.

This seems to be dawning on Michael O’Leary if his recent admission that he might need to be nicer in the future is anything to go by.

The Daily Mail is building a panto brand, addictively easy to hate, predictable in its hysterical diatribes, happy to create click bait and annoy every liberally minded person in the land, but it is a high risk approach.

Go too far, as I think the Daily Mail has done with its odious campaign against Ralph Miliband, and you’ll create genuine revulsion amongst even your most loyal brand advocates, losing custom from your readers and advertisers.

Personality is a good thing for corporate reputation, but try and build one that at least some people will like.

Peter Gilheaney is a director at Forster Communications.

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