Kenneth Cole & Every CEO: This Is Your Social Media Wakeup Call

Nancy Myrland All Posts, Social Media 51 Comments

Your phone rings, and a voice loudly tells you:

“Hello, this is your Social Media wakeup call.  Get up, and don’t ever sleep through that alarm again. Do you hear me?!”

An almost unbelievable situation unfolded on the Social Web today.

I began seeing Tweets, Facebook Wall updates, comments, blog posts and private messages alerting the entire world to the fact that Kenneth Cole, a major brand name for many years, had Tweeted the following via their Twitter account:

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

What? Really Kenneth Cole?!

I was shocked at the insensitivity and clueless nature of a post like this.  I’ve been watching the uprising and associated bloodshed the past several days, saddened by an oppressive regime that is attempting to bind the mouths, hands and brains of human beings.  What has been apparent is that the regime can not bind their souls, which I and the rest of the world have witnessed in their passionate call for change.

The next move I saw was another Tweet, allegedly from Kenneth Cole himself:

I somehow missed the appropriate major apologetic response, so I Tweeted the following response to KC, or Kenneth Cole:

The next we heard from Kenneth Cole was this on the brand’s Facebook Page, tucked back in the Discussions Tab:

I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t find this to be an apology of the proportion needed to match the size of the crisis he has created for his brand, and which is only growing in severity by the minute.  Yes, it is a sincere start, but it has now taken on a life of its own, and is a lesson on what NEVER to do via Social Media.  He is probably a very good man, but that is now beside the point as this is a business that needs to act appropriately to mitigate the situation they have now created for themselves.

I joined the growing number of people engaging in a crisis communications discussion on his Facebook Page by offering the following suggestions to him:

I offer that advice to all of you, too, along with the following:

  • Social Media are serious communication tools.
  • They are not toys.
  • Understand that when you misstep in such public arenas, the consequences will most likely grow to become very, very large and important to a lot of people very quickly.
  • You should make sure the person, or people, you have communicating for you via Social, and ALL, Media, are mature enough to understand your brand, the world, your place within the world, and consequences of actions.
  • The above suggestion has nothing to do with age or title, but of professionalism, intelligence, business acumen and common sense.
  • Talk about Crisis Communications today so you understand how you should react if and when this occurs to you.
  • When you mess up, apologize.
  • When you apologize, be sincere about it, and do everything within your power to help people understand how much you mean it.

Thanks to my friend, Tim Baran, for encouraging me to write this post.

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39 comments
Roger Melightly
Roger Melightly

Goodness. Talk about blowing things out of all proportion. Yes, it was a stupid, insensitive tweet. But he apologized. Let's move on. Let's not try to create a scandal where there really isn't one in a self-serving attempt to generate page views and land our next account. In the echo chamber that is social media, it helps if you find something interesting and worthwhile to climb up on your soapbox over. Nancy - you've found neither.

Have a lovely evening.

John Doe
John Doe

I know from experience that it was indeed Kenneth Cole. He does his own tweets and does not have someone post for him! He does have a strong and creative character. To understand his humor behind his tweets, you might need to really know who he is, as a person. I believe in my heart that he truly did NOT mean to take away or make fun of the serious turmoil of Egypt. If you know about the history of his ad campaigns and how is creative side works...you would have a better understanding of where that statement came from. I do agree it was not the best judgment, but he has always been known to push the envelope.

Mimi Meredith
Mimi Meredith

Nancy, I think he should just hire you.

Your instructions should be a template for all apologies. Never say "if I offended you..." Simply, be sorry; say you're sorry; offer a process to make amends and hire Nancy Myrland if you need expert help!

Thanks for so eloquently and sensitively sharing this info. I had my computer off for a day and I missed it!

Mimi

Keri
Keri

Nancy,

Thanks for writing about this and for giving such objective comments.

I had logged on mid-stream to the conversation and was surprised at the poor taste. Frustrating that stock prices went up 2.5% as someone posted...

I did develop a new relationship with a fellow tweeter due to it. So some good does come.

Thank you again for your quality mind!!

~Keri

ben
ben

its sad how suddenly a gazillion people who had absolutely no idea (or dared to even care) of the turmoil in Egypt prior to this are now up in arms over this gaffe...

David Waddell
David Waddell

The original Tweet was insensitive and stupid. The initial 'apology' was not an apology at all. The subsequent remarks were more appropriate. However, I don't agree with the idea that the company should have been, in effect, self-flagellating to apologise. That would just draw even more attention to the original error, and does nothing to mitigate the offence. A simple sincere apology should be all that is needed. If customers decide it's not enough, then likely nothing will be enough.

Darcey
Darcey

Really? You don't think his attempts at appeasing you were enough regardless of syntax? Let's be honest here, KC is a clothing brand not a political figure head. Yes it was insensitive but who the hell is taking their political and social cues from him anyway. A video?! Please that's just exacerbating the situation. An apology will suffice for me and unless you have a personal vendetta with the guy it should for you too. Go pick on someone that actually matters in the big picture.

Tiffany
Tiffany

It seems to me that it's the response that's out of proportion. Was it an insensitive thing to say? Probably. People make crass comments and try to inject humor into bad situations and try to capitalize on anything that's getting attention thousands of times a day. Was it a bad business move? Apparently. And perhaps apologizing was a good move from a PR standpoint. But piling on lengthy explanations and video and all that just adds more fuel to the fire and keeps the press on the controversy surrounding these 100+ characters instead of where it belongs, on the real world issues. What's happening in Egypt is a real world issue. The single sentence quip a clothing company rep made about it is not. And that's something we tend to get confused about in social media.

Definitely a lesson here for corporate bloggers, social media managers, etc., but beyond that? From what I've seen in a cursory look around the web, hundreds of hours have been invested in this ten-second-comment from someone entirely outside the political sphere. Too bad that energy hasn't gone into doing something affirmative for the people of Egypt (or anywhere else) rather than demonizing a guy who made a joke in poor taste.

Tsu Kamoto
Tsu Kamoto

People love fashion, and will always continue to buy his stuff. Why? Because it's sexy clothing, and clothing matters more than peoples overly sensitive feelings. Humans, particularly those of the Western world, care more about their appearance and style than being politically correct. That's why PETA has had no serious affect when it comes to protesting the killings of animals for their fur. Faux fur is a trend that won't stick. Now back to KC. The statement was rude, and not necessary...agreed, however, bloggers and media outlets are profiting from his PR twitter fail by dedication a post in an attempt to gain more visitors. I could argue this blog post was an social media attempt to stir up visitors to this site. I won't get paid, but you will. The Egyptians won't get paid, but KC will. Oh, he will get paid, and it has made his name larger than it ever was before. KC's brand is known worldwide more so now than it was yesterday. As soon as this all blows over, I'll be pulling back out my KC bag, shoes, belts, shirts, jackets etc., and loving every minute the silky smooth clothing hugs and caresses my body. I think KC won this one in the long run.

Ingrid Abboud
Ingrid Abboud

Nancy,

I take my hat off to you for replying in such a dignified way.

I think that Tweet will generate a lot of mixed feelings. Some may find it funny - and although I can maybe try and see why - I certainly don't.

They say that there is no such thing as bad press - I disagree. All press may be press, but that doesn't justify ethics and morals. Sure, they may have gotten traffic to their site or a few purchases here and there - but at what cost. I wanted to use Social Media as an example here but you already did a great job of that when replying to Eric.

I have no doubt that there are more people that are "offended" and not amused than those that are laughing or thought it was clever. I'll start with the 80 million in Egypt that are trampling each other and demonstrating day in and day out for their God given rights. Then with all the rest like you.

It seems like Mr. Cole or whoever may have tweeted this (for some reason I don't think it's him personally) may have jumped on the old PR saying that "to every crisis is an opportunity". A gross miscalculation on their part here. Opportunist and opportunity are two very different things to me.

I have heard so many jokes in the last few days regarding the crisis in Egypt. And you might laugh for one second but then realize how lucky you are that you're not in the same situation.

You see Nancy, I lived in Cairo for 11 years. I know how the majority of the people there live. I'm also Lebanese, so I've been to and seen my fair share of demonstrations and rebellions.

So yes, this tweet may have gotten some attention, but I guarantee you that it's not the attention they want. They may have used Social Media to spread their message - but I think they might get a taste of their own medicine and see just how fast Social Media does indeed work (on an international scale). I'm thinking they will learn it the hard way - don't you?

His personal apology is a start though. And I know that in general they do support some good causes.

I apologize for rambling without having even said yet how "perfect" your reply was and what good *free advice you just gave them.

Well said Nancy.
Cheers

Lorraine Ball
Lorraine Ball

Nancy,
Until today, I always thought twitter mistakes, were little mistakes. I encouraged clients to jump in, give it a try...And I mostly still think that is a good strategy, but just like diving into a deep pool of water, it might help .... if you know how to swim. So maybe there is such a thing as bad pr.

Howie,
I think social media does have an impact.. Maybe BP stations didn't close down, but the company is paying millions to people affected by the spill. I think the public outrage, fueled by social media help them see the wisdom of opening their wallet without a class action lawsuit. I am not saying this happened just because of social media, but medium helps make people aware, find a common voice and platform to express opinions, support, and this case, outrage.

Howie at Sky Pulse Media
Howie at Sky Pulse Media

I own a lot of Kenneth Cole though been awhile since I have bought anything new. The question is if he didn't apologize would it hurt their sales. Delta treated an elite flier with a huge platform Joseph Jaffe like chattel causing him to go Delta Skelta. It took over 2 years before anyone at Delta cared.

I blogged today at how little communication happens via Social Media. Its technically insignificant in the scope of all communication. I didn't see BP stations close down after the spill. I think it takes a massive concerted uproar to make a dent in these companies.

So while everything written here is valid, as well as the comments. Will it change anything? I am skeptical. Remember the Jersey Shore with its Guidos, Bitches and Hoes theme is MTV's biggest hit ever. The Sopranos made EYEtalians seem dumb yet it was a monster hit for HBO.

I blog (along with the Ad Contrarian) how much brands get fleeced on Digital failing to work and yet they spend more money. Tiger Woods still has sponsors (though he was damaged). Micheal Vick did something way worse than KC and he is now a darling again. Same with Ben Rothelsberger.

I think we have so much going on its really hard to keep something in front of people for things to change or hurt the earnings of a big company. I don't like that fact. But sadly I think its true. Even if the NY Times ran with this would it change anything?

Julio Ricardo Varela
Julio Ricardo Varela

It's been quite a week for the posse on social media. A little Kenneth Cole, a little BBC and Top Gear, we got all the bases covered this week! Great post, Nancy!

Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

When I first saw this tweet earlier today, I dismissed it out of hand. I felt certain it must have been a hoax. Perhaps someone set up a fake Twitter account, or perhaps it was a real Tweet from months ago that seemed insensitive in the current context. It just seemed impossible to think that anyone---much less the head of a multi-million dollar fashion brand---would say anything so unbelievable.

Yet it's true. However, I would go much further than Nancy's comments. I would not be surprised if this was a message sent by Mr. Cole himself. If an underling had put out the message, they could simply be dismissed. And while this might be a constructed as wakeup call about social media, I think it's a wakeup call about *society.* People like Mr. Cole have a tremendously loud voice, and by analogy can have stick a tremendously large foot in their mouth. Mr. Cole's tweet is akin to telling a racist joke among friends. No one assumes everything they say will be heard by everyone. Character is doing what is right, no matter how many people are watching (or following).

Harrison Painter
Harrison Painter

Love the way you titled it, and could not agree more. Many companies look at social media as something the "interns" can do. It is hard for me to comprehend, but putting a barely trained intern, or low level employee, as my front line ambassador just does not make any sense to me. That said, the responsibility falls upon us as professionals to keep educating the marketplace and being leaders in our industry. Thank you for being one of those leaders Nancy.

LOVE IT!
Harrison

Betsy Munnell
Betsy Munnell

Nancy--could be the best advice Kenneth Cole ever got. And for free, on the free internet. The tweets now coming out of @KennethColePR are truly horrifying. They'll go semi-viral as well. Let's hope they follow your advice.

Nice job. Short, to the point and beautifully written, as usual.
Betsy

Art Thompson
Art Thompson

While I was offended by the sheer ignorance of this and the follow-up tweet, I was not surprised by it (it is fashion, after all). Nor was I surprised by the sheer ignorance of the folks applauding it as some sort of reverse-psychology PR "coup." The only dialog I see opened up is the same dialog that keeps getting repeated--just with different names--of high-profile brands looking like rudderless ships that no one can take seriously. Keep up the good work, KC.

Eric Bechtel
Eric Bechtel

I'm sure you mean well, but he did his job... and not very well I might ad. He just opened a dialogue about Kenneth Cole and world affairs, of which he gained little publicity as of yet.

What's the saying? There's no such thing as bad press? Well guess what... you just proved it. I love their clothing and shoes. Thanks for reminding me. :)

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

I've been following this, too. I'm willing to bet it was NOT Kenneth Cole who tweeted this, but a junior level employee who thought he'd/she'd take advantage of a trending topic to get noticed. This failed two summers ago with a furniture company (can't remember the name now) and it'll keep happening until people realize how easy it is to screw up online if you don't know what you're doing.

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  1. […] and his “contribution” is just a quaint part of the corporate culture. Kenneth Cole demonstrated the risks of being Auto-Otto a couple years ago during the Arab Spring. A careless approach can cause big trouble when companies […]