Companies develop new products with the intention to make the world a better place. They see a gap in the market, develop a solution, people use it, the company earns money, and everyone’s happy.
However, not everything is always that straightforward. Ethical issues can come into play when consumer usage deviates from the intended use of the product. Which begs the question of just how much responsibility companies should bear when their product (inadvertently or not) has caused harm.
Here are a couple examples to consider:
Pokémon Go, the wildly popular augmented reality game turned the entire world into its playground. Along with it came side effects of players flocking to places they’re not always welcome to “catch ‘em all”. From the backyard of private residences to places of worship and memorial grounds, there’s no stopping players from trespassing beyond opening hours in search of Pokémon and the Pokéstops. Even more dangerous is the behaviour of distracted drivers playing Pokémon Go, which has resulted in fatal accidents. Does this land Niantic, the game’s developer, in murky waters? Are they obligated to come up with updates to completely block users from playing when in moving vehicles? Or respond to Pokéstop removal requests at private residences and memorial grounds?
With such controversies, the risk for potential lawsuits resulting from injuries or privacy violations increases, which is why it’s crucial for companies to have a crisis response strategy in place to answer potential public backlash that could arise.
Dating apps have revolutionised the way people find love. Figures show that there are 50 million global users on Tinder, the most popular dating app. For the uninitiated, Tinder matches users with people near you with just a simple swipe. As the stigma around such apps fades and online dating becomes acceptable, there are still negatives associated with dating apps – such as the concerns of under-age users or married folks. Should dating apps take stronger steps in enforcing stricter policies to stop those behaviours? Just how much are they supposed to be responsible for the behaviours of users?
Having a messaging strategy in place is key in establishing who and what your product is meant for. A solid communication strategy can ensure your brand pushes the product out to the right people for the right reasons, and set an off-track narrative right again.
If anything, digital technology has made it harder to decide who is responsible. At the end of the day it’s up to the end user to apply common sense. The brand is simply providing a solution for a gap in the market. But that’s not to say brands bear zero responsibility. It’s equally important for companies to have strong messaging in place to establish their intended audience and product use. With a strong PR team working alongside you, issues that could potentially turn sour can be nipped in the bud early on, and the backlash from crisis situations can be better managed with a well-planned response strategy.
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