Social Blunders – Avoidance Is Key!

Social media can be be described as a cock-tail party on the net. And as in any social situation there is a chance that the players will come down with sudden foot-in-mouth-disease.

Let’s take a look at some examples where the social strategy became anti-social in the blink of an eye:

Kenneth Cole and #Cairo

In February 2011 Kenneth Cole experienced some heavy backlash after tweeting:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly?kCairo -KC”

Prior to this tweet, the Kenneth Cole brand was known for its provocative topical advertising.  Examples of this fact include a post-Katrina billboard saying: “Hurricanes aren’t ending. And bird flu is coming. BUT WEAR?”

In the Cairo case, the clothes designer took it one step too far by tweeting about a serious political issue in an effort to gain some quick and easy promotion for its brand.

The tweet was promptly taken down and Kenneth Cole issued an apology on its Facebook page.

It is difficult to say if or how badly this blunder affected the brand.  There is a hint that the uproar did affect the company’s outlook given the following comments made by Kenneth Cole’s Chairman and Interim CEO, when commenting on the release of the 2011, 1st quarter results:

“We also intend to reclaim the leadership position of the brand, not just its social voice, but also its fashion and its product positioning.”[1]

Even now, more than a year later, a blog about the resulting cyberspace indignation can be found on the second page of a “Kenneth Cole” Google search.

The Take Away from the KC blunder: Like most social faux pas what we can take away from it are lessons of common sense. It is always risky to build brand awareness off the back of politically risqué and potentially offensive comments.

Lesson #1 – As an organisation and a brand, if you’re going to go down an edgy road in your social media promotion, be prepared for a possible backlash and carefully assess whether the risk is worth it vis à vis the potential reward.

Qantas and #QantasLuxury

In November 2011 the Australian airline had poor timing when launching a social media competition that required their Tweeps to answer the following tweet:

“’What is your dream luxury in-flight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury”.

Prior to the competition’s launch, a union dispute caused the grounding of the Qantas fleet, disrupting the travel plans of thousands. It was no surprise then that disgruntled passengers took to Twitter to tell all about their very worst experiences in response to the QantasLuxury# competition.

This social media blunder traversed many mediums, including print media. And even now, a year later, you can see further reference to this issue under the #QantasLuxury hashtag.  The below is a mere example:

The weary traveller is home. Perfectly nice flights with my new friends @VirginAustralia. No reason to change back to#qantasluxury.

What we can learn:

#1 – Social Media strategies and deployments should have an appreciation for prevailing economic conditions. SM is a conversation medium, a medium in which your audience can take to their advantage should they have the desire to express their emotion and feelings about a certain subject that embroils your brand.

#2 – Monitor your social channels! Two hours after the initial post, and two hours after the hashtag highjacking Qantas posted the following: “#qantasluxury is just one of many comps we’ve run lately. Thanks for the entries ;)”[2]  Quick and relevant responses have the best impact in times of a crisis.   Whether two hours was quick enough is the subject of speculation.

The ‘Take Aways”

What we can take away from these two examples is that two way conversation from B2C and C2B cannot be rigidly controlled. The utmost tact and respect must be shown to your audience when your organisation decides to engage with them via social media.

It’s okay to be provocative and edgy in your engagement style but you must always be prepared to respond to your audience’s reaction.  Just like we don’t blindly read off pre-prepared cards at cocktail-parties when engaging with others, your organisation should not blindly send out time-delayed SM posts in the midst of a crisis nor should it launch promotions that have no regard to the circumstances that exist at the time of the launch.

An awareness of the world around you and an understanding of your audience’s persona and mood is crucial in avoiding blunders such as the two discussed above.

We are surrounded by risk on a daily basis.  The key is not to exacerbate it with untimely or poorly thought out social media campaigns.


[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/04/idUS125756+04-May-2011+HUG20110504