This week Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the Eastern United States with lives lost and an estimate of hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
Social Media once again proved to be a incredible tool for people to stay connected, organize evacuation strategies and share their experiences (even if there were some fake hurricane pictures shared on Facebook).
The fallout began when Retailers thought they could capitalize on the Twitter hashtag conversations and take advantage of the traffic online talking about the tragedy. I say “traffic” deliberately because it is clear that the retail philosophy was about traffic and driving sales, versus a sensitivity around people and what they were experiencing.
What this demonstrated to me is once again Retailers fail to understand the culture of the Social Media Community.
Social Media is about people and there is tremendous sensitivity towards other people when something terrible is happening – anywhere in the world.
Last year Kenneth Cole made the list of the Top Internet Scandals of 2011 when they tweeted about their new collection using the #Cairo hashtag.
This tweet caused outrage on Twitter causing Kenneth Cole to make a very public apology and many thought this was the tweet that other Retailers would learn from.
Today in the wake of tragedy and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy we saw other examples of misguided Retailers. I say misguided because I do not believe they intended to be so offensive – rather they fail to understand the culture of a community where communication is a two way street and behavior is called out by people quickly and fearlessly. This is not your 1980′s consumer who has no way to express their dissatisfaction with you.
American Apparel probably made the most tasteless sales pitch of them all when they decided to have a hurricane sale. They were quickly outed by Mashable for their lack of sensitivity and the flurry of responses they had caused.
And it continued when the Gap also made an attempt to redirect perceived lost sales caused by stores closures to their website. They were quickly called out by Scott Stratten, best selling author and Social Media expert best known on Twitter as Unmarketing for his strong beliefs that we should stop marketing, and start engaging.
Instead of taking their lumps and acknowledging they had behaved inappropriately, the Gap decided to rationalize their tweet and followed up by posting this:
I wish I could say that was the end of it but it was not.
Presidents Choice also committed a faux pas when they tweeted this (also picked up by @unmarketing and I am guessing may be one of many stories featured in his next book)
On a positive note – Presidents Choice did what ANY Retailer and or business person should do when they make this type of mistake. They owned it and they apologized.
The magic of this is that for the most part, the community is almost as quick to forgive as they are to call you out. We all get social media is still relatively new, and that people make mistakes. The very big difference is your mistakes are public and when you hide from them, or try and rationalize them – you make the situation worse.
Retailers really need to learn how to be human when it comes to engaging with other humans on Social Media.
None of us are perfect but it helps if you start with a conscience and ask yourself “Does if feel right to say this? Morally and ethically?”
I have been a retailer most of my life. I get wanting to drive sales and traffic – but not at the expense of your brand. Remember – brand is NOT your logo, brand is how your customers feel about you, the perceptions they have from all their experiences and interactions with you. Do you really want to damage that?
Social Media is one of the best ways I know for Retailers to connect with their customers, and at the same time, completely trip up the reputation they have worked so hard to create.
Don’t delegate your reputation to someone who doesn’t understand the value of talking to your audience. It’s far too important to be taken lightly and it is time for Retailers to realize that.
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