Today started out relatively quiet. Here in the Northeast, we had just begun to recover from yet another snowpocalypse. I was sorting through a few emails left over from last night. My colleagues (both online and off) took part in some casual banter. All was well. And then Kenneth Cole published his now-infamous tweet:
Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is
now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC
I’m not much of a fashionista, so I found out about the tweet secondhand when a link appeared in my twitter stream. I clicked and immediately cringed. My first thought wasn’t so much about how awful the sentiment is, but rather how the person writing the tweet likely had no idea of what they had done.
Within minutes, the backlash started. #KennethCole is still trending on Twitter. News outlets did their own write ups on the tweet, and some even posted parodies:
A Lesson in Reputation Management
Kenneth Cole was quick to delete the tweet and to issue an apology for it. By the looks of the comments on Kenneth Cole’s facebook fan page, it was too little too late. (Former) fans spoke of throwing out and burning various Kenneth Cole garments. Various slurs were thrown around. A few (myself included) speculated that the tweet was posted by a social media consultant. Others suggested ways that Mr. Cole might begin to make amends for this preposterous blunder. After each comment on the facebook page, Kenneth Cole (or one of his staff members) posted the same message: ”I have removed this morning’s tweet. Please visit this link to see my apology. http://on.fb.me/fCSf5Z -KC” . Rather than appease the public, however, this just served to stoke the flames. As one FB-er posted:
“Instead of the cut and paste apology, why not actually engage with people? There’s real humans at the other end of these messages you know. Customers and potential customers. Talk to them.”
When it comes down to it, I wonder what this all means from a marketing perspective. To me, it is obvious that common sense should come into play when choosing keywords and hashtags. Using a phrase simply because it is popular is not good enough. Relevance is essential. In addition, terms that are particularly sensitive (those that fall outside of what my mother called acceptable dinner conversation: politics, money and religion) should usually be avoided, especially if you are representing someone other than yourself.
The Real Social Media Issue
I think that most of us can agree that no harm was intended here. #Cairo has been trending for awhile now, and someone (whether it be Kenneth Cole or a social media rep) thought it would be a good idea to use it to increase the reach of their promotional tweet. It isn’t the intent so much that is the problem…it’s the lack of thought.
Egypt is in the midst of a political crisis. The lives of people are at stake. There are some, including the protesters in Cairo, who have been using and following the hashtag in order to communicate, to organize themselves, and to assist in their survival. To essentially hijack that hashtag for promotion…for personal and/or corporate gain shows a lack of consideration for what these people are facing, and what the situation means for the world as a whole.
Some will argue, “but it’s only Twitter…you shouldn’t take it so seriously”. I’d argue back that Twitter started out as a serious means of communication. Back in 2008, it was the tweet of student James Karl Buck from an Egyptian jail that helped make others aware of his situation. Others have used the network to communicate during natural disasters. In fact, as I type this, I can follow updates on a 5.3 magnitude earthquake in the Banda Sea. As with any other type of communication, there are times when twitter is casual, and there are times when a more serious type of discourse is required.
Social media is often criticized because of how casual it seems. One second, you have a thought, and the next it’s on the screen, ready to be accessed by the entire world. It is because of this that many organizations are reluctant to use social media, despite the many benefits that it may have. As a marketer or a social media consultant, how do you maintain the balance between creating interesting, engaging content to share with your customer base, and being responsible to the brand which you represent?
I think the biggest lesson we can take away from this is to think before you tweet. The only thing that makes social media any riskier than any other sort of interaction is its immediacy. Once you hit “enter”, you’re no longer in control. I don’t believe that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something that that we should be mindful of.
Questions Raised by the Kenneth Cole Tweet
As a business, what concerns do you have regarding the impact of social media? How would you deal with a situation like this? What sort of online reputation management services do you employ?
One commenter on the Kenneth Cole Facebook page said something along the lines of “you have just ensured your place forever in marketing textbooks”. Do you think this is true, or will the fast-paced medium allow for the issue to fade more quickly?
What lesson will you take away from the Kenneth Cole ordeal? Let me know in the comments.