A recently released book that I contributed to asked the question with it’s subtitle, "why don’t they get it?" It’s a fitting question today, as brands are often divided into those that understand the power of conversation and those that don’t. Slowly, however, brands are adding their names to the ranks of those that get it. Dell and Comcast are often being praised as two shining examples due to their willingness to have a conversation with customers and actively use of social media tools.

There is one fact, however, that is often forgot. Both of those brands first entered into using social media out of necessity. More importantly, they started after major brand controversies. Dell had to reinvent their reputation after Dell Hell, and Comcast had to combat the incredibly damaging Technician Sleeping On The Couch video. Similar to the natural phenomenon of some forests needing fire so they can properly burn and new seeds can be released, evolving brand communications seems sometimes to adhere to a similar pattern.

Here are a few reasons why having a brand controversy may be your company’s best hope to reinvent itself and start to embrace social media tools that initially seem new and scary:

  1. Forces you to listen fast. Relying on daily or weekly media clips is no longer fast enough in a crisis. This means your team will need to start adopting social media tools to listen faster out of necessity. This skill will remain in the team, causing them to more actively monitor social media in the future.
  2. Understand the real power of individual voices. Before seeing a crisis start from a single blogger or an errant tweet, it is difficult to describe the real power that a seemingly small time content creator can have. After a crisis breaks, it becomes easy to explain this point.
  3. Demonstrate to managers why social media matters. This may be one of the biggest struggles marketers face, namely convincing their bosses that social media matters enough to dedicate time and budget to it. Having a crisis and using as well as showing the power of the tools offers a tangible example of why it is worth resourcing and budgeting.
  4. Identify key influencers. Often in a crisis, the key influencers in a particular category that have the power to influence thousands if not hundreds of thousands will emerge. If marketers are paying attention, they can start to understand where the pockets of influence really are, and how to influence them.

As I write this post, there is another brand that is rapidly confronting its own brand crisis. Motrin released an ad that was immediately denounced by mom bloggers and social media types as offensive. The controversy really started through public reaction on social media and is now growing beyond those confines. I believe that this may well be the greatest opportunity ever to face the marketing team for Motrin. They now have the ear of everyone in their organization and the chance to do what few Over-the-Counter medications would ever have dared to do otherwise … embrace using social media. The #motrinmoms controversy is a huge chance for the brand to reinvent its communications. The only question is whether they will take advantage of it or not.