February 3, 2011 by Ken Yeung
Social Media Blunders Like Kenneth Cole’s Shows The Jokes Really On Them
For those of us abreast on the world of social media, we’re aware of what happens in this industry and how we can make good news compared to what turns into bad news. In fact, you can tie it all back to what our parents told us about the Internet back in the day…be careful with what you’re posting online because strangers will be able to read it. Unfortunately, it’s not just strangers we need to worry about these days, but also employers and our customers.
And as we’ve seen before in past cases when brands don’t think that social media best practices and understanding apply to them, yet another company decides to stick the proverbial foot in their mouth. That’s what we woke up to here on the West Coast when we looked and to our amazement saw this bizarre tweet from the Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of brand clothing designer Kenneth Cole, Kenneth Cole himself. Now I can’t link to the exact post, but I did manage to take a screenshot and it’s posted below. But what’s interesting is that he thought it was a joke. Let’s go through the entire process and analyze why this was a bit insensitive, but on any normal occasion, the motive was probably a decent one.
Understanding the context
In the world today, there’s much turmoil, especially in the Middle East. As of this writing, there’s civil unrest taking place in Egypt where thousands, if not millions, of people are rebelling against a government that they don’t see as representative of their own. Hundreds are being wounded, people are dying and suffering. On top of that, many of them are poor and underprivileged who can’t really support the most basic of needs.
The tweet that shook the Internet world
As I mentioned earlier, this morning PST, we woke up to this rather incredulous tweet from the Kenneth Cole (@kennethcole) company. They have since removed it and “apologized” which I’ll get to later on, but the one thing to note here is that those tweets with “-KC” markings denote that they supposedly are personal tweets from the man running the account, in this case, it’s Kenneth Cole himself (who coincidentally is the Chairman and Chief Creative Officer). So this man thought it was personally funny for him to “write” this tweet that pokes a bit of fun at the crisis in Egypt. Just what else made this a bit insensitive and shocking?
- The millions protesting are poor and even if there was uproar over the spring collection from Kenneth Cole, don’t you think they’d be more upset that they’re solicited products they would never be able to own with their current life situation?
- The attempt to “hijack” a Twitter hashtag (#Cairo) with this poor attempt of a tweet also illustrates that while the motives to get this promotion in the eyes of people, it was insensitive to the current hostile environment = bad timing
So after a while, this tweet was followed up by another tweet supposedly by Kenneth Cole himself that one would think would be a bit apologetic, but when you view this tweet, you’ll understand that it was nothing more than just a brush off the shoulder excuse that they thought would make this blow over. But unfortunately it just added fuel to the fire.
Of course that hits cyberspace immediately and viciously is ridiculed by bloggers and those in the Twittersphere. This excuse of a joke only hits the airwaves merely two hours after the first tweet. It takes another three hours or so before they actually remove the offending tweet and put up what appears to be a more legitimate and sincere apology that we can all believe in.
Social media’s backlash can be severe
I’ll admit that the offending tweet didn’t strike me as that bad, although it was insensitive to the occasion and poorly executed, BUT the one thing that bothered me was the faux apology that Mr. Cole seemed to rain down on his Twitter followers with a rather repugnant of an excuse – seems they were “making light of a serious situation.” Well, Mr. Cole, you weren’t making light of anything, you were really trivializing it and that shows your brand as out of touch with what’s going on in social media and also in the rest of the world.
As soon as Kenneth Cole’s tweet was aired, bloggers took to it and posted their thoughts. You can read what The Next Web and AdAge had to say about this, but just look at what the real-time stream is saying about Kenneth Cole. As typical with large brands that think that they know social media, the thing here is that no one really reacted swiftly on this one. There was no community manager trying to do damage control or any rapid tweets to try and avert any backlash. In fact, everything seemed to be a bit unfiltered and unmoderated. Just look at their Facebook page and you’ll see reactions to the tweets and even to the ultimate apology that was posted on Facebook and not on Twitter.
As soon as the apology was posted on Facebook, it’s interesting to note that people left some rather insidious and harsh comments on the page – many were even calling for a boycott of Kenneth Cole’s products. Brands must begin to realize that they need to have community managers on call for this type of occasions, among others, just so that they can monitor what’s being said and how to put the brand in good light – in the aftermath, I hope that Kenneth Cole realizes their mistake and will think that they need more than just traditional PR for this to blow over and reshape their image. The world these days is filled with people online and this type of reputation can hurt a company for a bit of time.
Don’t get mad, get even – by spoofing their brand
In the aftermath of the horrible oil spill in the Gulf Coast by BP, during the cleanup period, people became quite angry and took it out using social media. Someone eventually came up with a spoof of the brand’s Twitter account (@BPGlobalPR) and what they were posting were amusing, if not offensive in an ordinary setting and said by the actual brand. In this case, we saw a spoof Twitter account show up almost immediately. This account is supposed to be from the brand’s PR department (or at least we’re “supposed” to believe it), but with this spoof (@KennethColePR), it’s truly a mark on the stain of a brand showing that if we spoofed your account, you clearly have done something wrong in the eyes of social media.
So what will we all do with Kenneth Cole? Boycott? Post more reactions and write more blogs lynching the brand? Or will the brand itself step up and be more proactive in communicating with the community instead of just posting tweets they think work and then move on and ignore what possibly thousands of people are saying online? Who knows, but until that time when brands like Kenneth Cole get it right, they’ll still be airing their dirty laundry without a care for their company.