With everyone now having a voice through social media, it creates an environment where companies are looking for anything relevant to use to help them either advertise their products or engage with their users. It's always difficult to come up with new material and angles to discuss what you have to offer with some creativity, but it should never be done in a manner where it appears that you are trying to benefit from a tragedy. This past calendar year, we have seen plenty of tragedies in our country, but I'm just going to focus on last fall's Superstorm Sandy.
There is no question the storm that cost many lives and billions of dollars of damage in the Northeast did bring new business to some companies. Lowes and Home Depot are perfect examples of firms that were set to profit from devastation to hundreds of thousands of people. Home Depot went out of their way to help the cause, donating one million dollars to the relief effort and keeping longer hours during the cleanup. Both of the companies were set to benefit, but there is not a single quote out there from anyone in management from neither Home Depot nor Lowes reveling in someone else’s suffering.
On the other hand, Gap and American Apparel weren’t quite as sensitive. Gap posted the below tweet, which they eventually removed:
Gap followed up with what could maybe be called a halfhearted apology.
American Apparel took it a step further and sent out the below email to their entire subscriber list:
The response to the ‘SANDYSALE’ was overwhelmingly negative, with plenty of list members saying they should organize a boycott. The scrutiny brought up other issues from American Apparel's checkered past as well. American Apparel also issued an apology, saying that the sale “came from a good place.”
While both companies may have thought they were trying to use a little comedy in a difficult time, they clearly missed the mark with their users and were forced to issue apologies.
Though it may not always be possible, it makes sense to have multiple people review all social media posts. If you're in the trenches all day engaging with your company’s user base, it doesn't hurt to take a step back and ask a fresh set of eyes to read over your post before it is on the Internet forever. The Gap post could have easily been reworded to portray a positive message, instead of trying to push a sale when a multitude of people had their lives changed forever from the event. In the case of American Apparel, their blunder comes off even worse, as it was a full graphical email campaign that surely went through at least some channels of review before being sent to their subscribers.
At the end of the day, we live in a competitive, fast moving world, where we are expected to send out multiple communication posts per day to keep in touch with the people who could be interested in our products or services. Before hitting that ‘tweet’ or ‘post’ button, please ask yourself if what you are about to put out there could be found offensive to someone. It is much easier to make the change up front than to issue apologies later.