There's no place for brands to hide in the cruel world of online

LONDON - The first time I decided to quit advertising, it was because of a 360-degree appraisal. I worked in a small agency and, although all the feedback was supposed to be anonymous, it wasn't hard to put a name to the criticism.

Up to then, I'd been used to critiques in the generalised language of school reports and everyday management, so I moved suddenly from "you need to work on this" to "he's a complete arse". And it really got to me, it freaked me out.

Of course, I completely failed to learn from this and when I started getting lots of uncomfortable feedback on my blog, I was similarly appalled and panicky. I discovered I'm a lot more thin-skinned than I thought.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it's part of my therapy (step five, actually), but it's also because I don't think I'm alone - all kinds of brands and businesses are rapidly finding themselves in the same boat.

We've all trotted out that old saw about how the really great brands are polarising: they're loved and hated. I think that's true, but the reality of it is a lot easier to cope with when you never meet any of the haters - and the internet is making it really easy to meet them. Think about the 2012 Olympics logo imbroglio. If that had happened ten years ago, the only negative feedback would have been from the opinionistas and commentariat in the media, and they're easy to ignore, they're paid to be truculent and splenetic. There might have been some disastrous tracking data, even a few moments of uncomfortable focus group video, but nothing that felt really personal, nothing that hit you emotionally.

Not so any more. Now, if you do something that people don't like, thousands of them will tell you, in unmoderated, unfiltered language, with their own names attached, exactly how much you've disappointed them. And they're not the strangely contextless people of focus groups. You can look at these people's blogs or Facebook profiles and see just how normal and real they are. And they hate you. That has to have an effect.

I've seen a few times how change happens in organisations under pressure from the outside: pressure to change some business practice or to react to some ethical issue. It only ever happens when the people inside the business, the employees, force change because they're too embarrassed to talk about their work with their friends. It's hardly ever to do with business factors or CSR groups, it's to do with personal embarrassment.

The immediate and personal feedback social media gives us is going to magnify that effect. The interesting question will be - will it make businesses more responsive or less willing to take polarising risks?
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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).