BY BARNABAS ONYONKA
As a rule of life, bigger is always better. It is ingrained in us and there is little we can do to change our preference for bigger things. Even toddlers will fancy bigger toys as compared to smaller ones. Likewise, in the business world bigger is always preferred. A big company is better than a small company and so is a big name as compared to a smaller one. Bigger by any metrics, in the business world, opens doors for more profits which are, actually, the most important figures in any company.
Paradoxically though, when it comes to public image, the ‘linear’ relationship between bigger and better ceases to hold, instead the relation between bigger and better becomes ‘inverse’. You will be hard pressed to single out a big company, which has a good name. In fact you won’t be wrong to say that when it comes to public image, bigger is bitter, not better.
At this point, the question of why bigness becomes the Achilles heel of public image to big companies begs to be answered. Using examples of big companies and their public image woes, I will try to answer this very question in this article.
Being big means that the actions of big companies have a lot of impact and their effects are widely felt. This has not always served them well. As an example, Facebook stands accused of aiding Russian involvement in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections. By its own admission, over 3000 ads ran on the social media giant. While it is true that Facebook abetted the dissemination of propaganda and misinformation, it is hard to imagine it receiving the admonishment it is undergoing now if it was not the biggest social media platform.
I believe that the perpetrators of misinformation and propaganda used other means besides Facebook to advance their cause in misleading the American electorate. But because Facebook has good infrastructure of disseminating information, ads that ran on it achieved the greatest impact. And with it came public scolding.
Also, by virtue of their dominance and influence in their industries, big firms are more often than not individually blamed for issues that affect the whole industry. For example Google is accused of surfacing sites that are notorious for lies and fake news. A case in point, during the Las Vegas shootings, Google surface 4chan, a blog well known for its hoaxes. Surfacing the wrong sites is a problem that affects all the players in the search engine industry. But then Google being the face of the search engine industry will carry the cross of public reproach.
Still with Facebook, it has been accused of being the platform that aids hate mongering. I beg to disagree. All social media platforms across board are used by hate mongers in equal measure. It is only that Facebook happens to have a large grip of the market and hence by extension more hate mongers.
Another way to explain how bigness ends up being the chink in the public image armor of companies is that they get too much attention from the media and the public. Every journalist loves to tell a good story, every vendor loves to sell a paper with a good story and every reader loves to read a good story. Telling a good story, as anyone who has been in the media industry for a while will tell you, is easier and better when a big company is involved.
All companies make a few wrong turns from time to time, but not all companies that make wrong turns make it to the front pages of newspapers and magazines. Small companies’ faults go unnoticed while those of big companies make the headlines. Nothing else but bad publicity can be expected of big companies when their names are thrown around for all the wrong reasons. Not because their mistakes were bigger, no, simply because stories about their mistakes will be bigger than those of their smaller peers.
That said, you will be wrong to think that it is only the media that are skewed to concentrate on the big companies. Big fish are also easy targets for pressure groups and activists. Take for instance the boycott crusade by the Opposition. Looking at the three targeted entities; Safaricom, Brookside and Bidco, it is easy to conclude that they have almost nothing in common but their bigness.
It seems that bad publicity is the price big companies have to pay for their dominance. It is like two sides of one coin, if you fancy one side you will have to bear with the other side.
There were many entities and individuals in the elections. If the Opposition was indeed after the culprits of the flawed election their list should have been longer. But that would neither be feasible nor practical. Why bother fighting a whole lot of individuals and entities when three big ones can achieve the desired outcome with far less time and effort?
If you play you get hurt
If you don’t play, so goes the famous aphorism, you can’t win. This maxim is often used to encourage involvement in as many activities as possible since the more you try the more your chances of hitting the Holy Grail. So famous is this saying that it has inspired a book by the same name, which speaks more about the beauty of taking many shots.
Sure enough, there is beauty in taking many shots. But there is an uglier side to playing a lot: you lose a lot and you get hurt often. This is exactly what ails big companies. Because of their immense influence they are prone to be involved in many activities. And when some of these activities go wrong they have eggs on their public image faces.
This can help explain why Safaricom is in bad books with the Opposition. The reason why Safaricom was involved in the elections is that it was the biggest network provider in the country. When things went south in the elections, the mobile giant got its fair share of the condemnation. To record straight, I am not trying to defend Safaricom’s actions, whatever they were. What am trying to put across is that its bigness opened the door for involvement in the polls, and with its involvement came problems. If it was not the company with the largest network coverage this would not have happened to it.
Everything under the sun comes at a price, nothing comes for free. You have to give something to get something. It seems that bad publicity is the price big companies have to pay for their dominance. It is like two sides of one coin, if you fancy one side you will have to bear with the other side. In fact nothing drives home this situation better than the good book when it says that ‘a good name is more desirable than great riches’. ‘Than’, the linguist will tell will tell you, is often used to draw contrasts between opposite ideas or objects. Which means the good book is saying that a good name and great riches (immense success) can’t be achieved congruently. I concur. Hope you do too.