Don't Blame Brands (Always) In A Time Of Crisis

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The tweet heard around the world.

There was a disaster somewhere in the world. I think it was the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. I was in France at the time speaking at an event. I was crawling into an early evening slumber when the news broke. As we do these days, I hopped over to Twitter. I was immediately taken by someone many would acknowledge as a social media expert who tweeted out something along the lines of "Attention brands: please turn off all of your automated tweets, etc… out of respect for the tragedy in Boston." In the past, we’ve had many instances when brands (with good or stupid intentions) have firmly placed their proverbial feet in their mouths. It happens. It keeps happening. As bad and tragic as these events are, the world does not stop. I looked down to the pool/terrace area where the reception was continuing on without me (I was on a lower floor). You could see people scrambling to talk to one another and share the news of what was taking place in Boston. You could see groups of people huddled over mobile devices and the bar had changed the television channel over to CNN (or whatever the equivalent is in France). Still, the party raged on. Champagne was consumed, the buffet tables looked busy. Humans beings are a complex bunch. So, in one instance, we’re telling brands, don’t communicate anything during a national/international crisis, but on the other hand, the corporate parties and events keep raging on.

What is right in a world that has gone so wrong?

"Oh no. Not again." That was the sum of my initial thoughts when I first heard about the Fort Hood shooting. Tragedies everywhere. People struggling with their own demons, and violence becomes their desperate cry for help/attention. Sadly, people (now victims) become collateral damage in these cries for help. As usual, I head online to get perspective, read the discourse and more. Once again, a very senior communications executive sent out a message (this time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) about a tweet: "#FortHoodShooting sweet Save 10% plus free shipping on your order at Acme Inc. use coupon code: BUY19." The comment from the senior executive read: "The dark side of Twitter and hashtags. National tragedy unfolding and trending topic attracts marketing." I changed the name of the company and the promo code for a specific reason. This company was now taking a lot of flack for looking very insensitive during these times. As if that weren’t enough, it is also (somewhat evident) that it’s probably some kind of automated tweet that gets triggered for any trending topic/hashtag.

So, do you HATE that brand? 

It’s hard not to be immediately disgusted by them. But, here’s the thing: upon closer inspection of this instance, you can easily uncover that the brand (probably) had nothing to do with this tweet. It looked like an affiliate marketer who gets a commission of their sales when someone uses that, specific, promo code. So, this unsophisticated affiliate marketer is doing the equivalent of spamming trending hashtags in the hopes of picking up a few bucks here or there. Still, the brands takes the brunt of the hit, pain and crisis management that ensues.

Having a media brain.

How many people do you think saw that tweet and were simply disgusted by the brand, instead of taking the time to scratch a little beneath the surface to uncover the truth? It’s just another example of how brands can take a hit without ever having done anything wrong. Yes, you could easily say that businesses need to be careful about who they do business with, and that all affiliate marketers should be vetted in a more professional manner, but let’s get real here: what’s stopping anybody from going online, saying something like this about any brand and attempting to make them look bad? It’s easier than you think. It happens all of the time. The general mass populous are not trained media professionals. It’s not their jobs (nor do they care) to vet these tweets for validity. The brand gets hurts worse than anyone else in this scenario, and it quickly becomes this massive pile-on. Personally, I feel bad for the brand that got caught up in this storm. But, it just goes to show you, that even if you’re doing everything right, in terms of using social media to connect in a more real and authentic way with you consumers, that little mishaps like this are sure to happen. And, no matter how much is done in the aftermath to correct-course, there will still be even more people who saw that terrible tweet and now have a terrible brand impression.

Is time to talk about brands and control again?


  1. Hmmm, interesting.
    Well people have their own opinions. I’d like to think that it is not the brand to blame but neither the people. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram were made for people to post what they want to post. Have you noticed that before posting a status on Facebook, they ask you “What’s on your mind?” These social media networks are now so called “the voice of the people”.
    When writing for our clients, we really state what we have in mind. This builds trust with our clients.

  2. Yes, I think what the brand did is repugnant, even if there had been no Fort Hood shooting. Hashtag hijacking for advertising is the Twitter equivalent of spam. They were not “doing everything right.” They needed to be called on it.
    Live by the bot, die by the bot. :-/

  3. Let’s assume it was an affiliate Mitch, then I don’t buy your peculiar argument that the brand should not feel very accountable because some nefarious agency could easily have sent the same tweet.
    Surely you agree that the world would be a very different place if we all felt it was ok to commit evil acts just because someone else already does them.

  4. I’m not sure I understand your comment, Bill. Anyone can sign up to be an affiliate (think of Amazon). My guess is that this is a very dumb affiliate marketer leveraging bottom of the barrel tactics (like automated tweets off of trending hashtags). So, of course, it’s repugnant (as I stated in my post), but the brand took the full-on heat for this action as if they had done it. I don’t think that’s fair. Yes, they should dump this affiliate and figure out a way to make that type of newsjacking punishable, but to blame the brand for this tweet just doesn’t seem right to me. Then again, if they condone these types of actions or don’t respond to them, we should unleash everything on them.

  5. “But let’s get real here: what’s stopping anybody from going online, saying something like this about any brand and attempting to make them look bad? It’s easier than you think. It happens all of the time.”
    I read this passage many times Mitch and I took it to mean (particularly the phrase “let’s get real here”) that we should not blame the brand because it easy for someone to masquerade-tweet the same thing with malicious intent.
    It could just be me who read it that way and I am not surprised that that is not what you meant which is why I called peculiar, hoping to be wrong.
    BTW it’s good to see you back in the comment section;)

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