I know many of my readers’ eyes glaze over when I talk about social media. I try my best to put things into lay terms and help those of you who feel a bit overwhelmed with all this information make some sense of things.
I am not one to jump on the bandwagon of bashing a brand when they make a mistake. I believe it is counter-productive, fad-like and in my opinion the equivalent of being a mean girl in the world of public relations. Many will run to write about these things to boost their blog stats. That is surely not my intent. This is, however, a social media PR case study in the making and worth taking a look at.
Right now there is a serious situation arising on twitter surrounding a brand that is usually held in very high regard as being socially responsible. The brand is Kenneth Cole. In fairness to the great work they have done, let me first tell you that since 1985 they have been supporters of AIDS awareness and research as well as various other social issues. They created the Awearness Fund, a not-for-profit initiative that uses partnerships, merchandise, events and its blog to celebrate, encourage and empower acts of service volunteerism and social change. A full 100% of net proceeds of the Awearness products go toward the fund.
Now on to ‘the situation’.
In short, a hashtag or the # sign is used for a topic stream. People use it in a tweet and it is followed by those who are interested in that topic. In the case of natural disasters, it has helped get aid to those in need (think Ann Curry and Haiti). In the case of political uprisings it is sometimes the only way to mobilize and communicate. This is where Kenneth Cole came in with a huge fail today.
So far this has been their response to hundreds of tweets showing disgust with their poor taste.
This is a perfect example of a brand ‘hijacking’ a hashtag to promote itself. It is an equally perfect example why NOT to do this because it is not only in terrible taste; it forsakes the very foundation and principles of social responsibility. The very principles that this brand has spent 25+ years building upon.
This saddens me and reinforces what I constantly tell
anyone who will listen my clients about the dangers of social media. There is much speculation in the industry right now as to whether this was a strategic decision or a newbie without a clue.
It matters not. The damage is done for now. Will the world stop buying Kenneth Cole products? I doubt it. People continued to buy Motrin after the MotrinMoms debacle and it merely became a social media fail case study like the rest.
My (albeit long-winded) point here is this; brands need to treat social media like PR on steroids. Once you let out a tweet, Pandora’s box opens and you can’t take it back. I find it hard to believe that a senior strategist had any idea about this stream. In fact, I don’t think even a mid-level brand person could possibly think this was a good idea. UPDATE: it has been determined that the tweet came from none other than Kenneth Cole, himself. This is a frightening lesson in why the CEO needs oversight. Read Todd Defren’s post with the hysterical title: In social media everyone can hear you fart.
Social media tools are just tools, how they are used makes all the difference between a great idea and a huge headache.
UPDATE 4PM: Kenneth Cole respondes on facebook. Is this enough or do the sharks continue to circle?
I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.
Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer