Yesterday afternoon, fashion designer Kenneth Cole made an inappropriate tweet about the current situation in Egypt: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC"
Regardless of particular political sentiments that a reader might have, thousands of people reading the tweet were immediately outraged and horrified. Many people replied with extremely negative comments about how offended they were that the designer would take the deaths and violence of many people in Egypt so lightly, or draw similarities between his brand and the situation. The Kenneth Cole Twitter account deleted the tweet within a few hours, and posted a public apology on Facebook and linked to it from their Twitter account, signed directly by the CEO.
The offended readers were not mollified by this reaction and apology though. Within minutes, a fake @KennethColePR account was started, posting mocking tweets of Kenneth Cole in a manner similar to the @BPGlobalPR account during the Gulf Oil Spill crisis in 2010. Given his circumstances, this is about the best Kenneth Cole could have done on both very short notice to reply and handle it publicly. In this case, the damage to their brand reputation is so great that the story has caught quite a lot of attention in different online news outlets.
Other than not having made his original Tweet in the first place, what else could have Kenneth Cole done in this position to help mitigate the damage or restore their image? Many of the negative comments in reply to his apology were along the lines of pointing out that any reference he could make would trivialize the very real suffering and danger happening in Cairo at the time. Offers of medical help, donations to an independent charity to help people injured in the events, or a suggestion of support for their plight would all have gone a long way in his Facebook post.
A number of Egyptian Facebook users notably replied as well – Publicly acknowledging them and referencing them could have helped his cause as well. When managing a social media crisis, it's always positive to acknowledge any criticism and the posters directly and make people feel like they are being heard.
Kenneth Cole did make a number of correct decisions right away though, and they should be applauded for the efforts they did make in the social media sphere. When he realized that a mistake in judgment occurred, he immediately and publicly apologized in a sincere fashion and put it someplace where everyone could see it. He didn't try to justify his position or wait a long time to decide whether or not to be public about his mistake, like some companies would have in his situation. While it's always better to avoid these situations completely when possible, sometimes mistakes happen or situations come up, and you need to be responsive to a social media audience that is connected to your company’s brand 24/7.
Have you ever had to mitigate brand damage on social media or respond to a public issue there? Tell us your story in the comments.
Originally published Feb 4, 2011 9:20:00 AM, updated July 28 2017