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Memo to brands of all shapes and sizes: do not jump onto hashtag bandwagons, especially ones that involve bloodshed, unless you want to purposefully incur the wrath of the outraged.

The latest example of what not to do as part of your social media strategy comes from fashion retailer Kenneth Cole, so called after the designer who established the company. What’s worse is that Cole himself appears to be personally responsible for this inappropriate tweet:

Kenneth Cole in ridiculous hashtag hijacking

Oh boy... haven't we been here before?

If you cast your mind back you may remember that Habitat pulled a similar move in June 2009 when it used hashtags related to the protests in Iran as part of its promotional tweets. It then blamed and fired the intern, and duly killed its Twitter account.

No such luck for Kenneth Cole, as the designer himself appears to be at fault. The Twitter bio for the account states that: 

“Thoughts that end in -KC are from me personally; others are behind the seams insights from my inspiring associates.”

Cue the backlash

This is why you have to be more than a little careful about what you say, especially when you it in public. People are in the process of being killed and bloodied in Egypt. The violence has yet to cease, anybody tuned into Al Jazeera’s live stream will testify. It’s unpleasant, and brand marketers shouldn’t be going anywhere near this sort of thing. 

To his credit, Kenneth Cole issued a clarification within an hour or so, though it stops a little short of being an apology as such.

“Re Egypt tweet: we weren't intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment –KC”

Fair play, though Lord Manley, who alerted me this hashtag faux pas, replied:

“May I respectfully suggest that @KennethCole would have been better showing this by NOT making light of the serious situation?”

One of Econsultancy’s 10 social media guidelines is ‘Always pause for a moment in private before you reply in public’. Another should be 'Don’t go hijacking revolutionary hashtags.' It won’t help you sell any more products, but it will – in Cole’s case – generate around 1,500 negative retweets an hour, if the current run rate is anything to go by.

Word to the wise: think before you tweet.

Chris Lake

Published 3 February, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (21)

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Sian

Worth mentioning that Habitat only closed their Twitter account for a short time. They then got a PR company who specialised in working online to come in and show them how it's done. Let's not forget that the people behind the accounts are human.

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@Sian - Absolutely - the right way to go about it. Of course mistakes can be made... it's just that this just seems so crass, and to anybody who has been following the ongoing events, very wrong.

over 5 years ago

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Happy Chap

Whilst it is undeniably insensitive, I had never heard of Kenneth Cole before this (no doubt more a reflection of my hip-ness than their success in brand marketing) and just, once again, reminds us that not all negative publicity is wholly negative.

over 5 years ago

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Anonymous

Sorry to be the one to say it, but that's not a #fail ... it worked perfectly. Everyone that retweeted or replied to this (positive or negative) only spread it, which is exactly what marketing wants.

The best thing to do about a PR stunt that is blatantly wrong is to ignore it. That's the only way you hurt them. Privately marking it as spam or emailing twitter about removing the post would have worked too, but spreading the publicity of a publicity stunt is good for them, not bad. Hell, that tweet even made it onto this blog. I'm not fashion trendy, I had never heard of that company before seeing it on here, now I have. They're having a party over all this publicity right now.

1500 retweets per hour...god. There's people that would sell their soul for that, negative or positive. Looks like KC is one of them. A couple twitter apologies and a "we just weren't thinking, our bad" statement and all the "negative publicity" just becomes a TON of "regular publicity"

over 5 years ago

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Chris Moffatt

@Anonymous: I don't believe the idea of "any publicity is good publicity" necessarily applies online. The critical aspect of digital media is that messages can be distributed and read in their original form. There's no chance of misinterpreting that original tweet, and worse still, there's no opportunity for Kenneth Cole to withdraw it now it's in the blogosphere.

over 5 years ago

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Mark

Social Media is still very young, many people still have difficulty in understanding how it works. As someone above mentions, the old adage of "any good publicity is good publicity" certainly doesn't apply in SM. Comments like the above story spread like wildfire and can cause serious problems.

Marketers no longer have the upper hand, the internet-savvy generation no longer fall for their cheap tricks.

over 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

I don't agree that all PR is good PR, especially online. Kenneth Cole is a long-established fashion , both here and abroad, and the majority of their target audience will know and recognise the brand. But if you've never heard of the company, it probably means you may not fit the profile of their average customer. And having heard about the company for the first time, in such a negative capacity, is that likely to make you a potential customer or advocate of the brand? Probably not...

Another point is that in terms of the number of Tweets (or or followers or lists or other Twitter numbers), we need to stop thinking about quantity only, but also consider quality and the power of influence. A large number of Tweets in a negative capacity may have very little positive impact on the bottom line (such as in the case of Kenneth Cole), but a single Tweet from an influential fashionista may be very powerful (for example, Gaga loves Nutella: http://twitter.com/#!/ladygaga/status/30037746005315584).

Kenneth Cole may have apologised and deleted the offending Tweet, but the ramifications will continue long after the social media faux pas. Spoof accounts have already sprung up overnight: http://twitter.com/#!/KennethColePR

over 5 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@anonymous - I also don't buy into the idea that 'any publicity is good'. Shit sticks around for much longer online, and if brand matters then surely this kind of thing needs to be avoided? Since that tweet was published there have been 462 new articles written about it: http://bit.ly/hCtqEB. Some of them appear on the first page of Google for a search on 'Kenneth Cole'. Far from ideal.

@Mark - yep, social media is relatively new, but then common sense and good taste have been around forever, and that's all this is really.

over 5 years ago

Michelle Goodall

Michelle Goodall, Online PR/Social Media Consultant at EconsultancySmall Business Multi-user

Ouch. Thoughtless.

Would you have advised Kenneth Cole to use Facebook to post his apology? Not sure I would have done.....

http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=9291921501&topic=16039

over 5 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Michelle, I didn't know he had a Facebook page until he advertised that fact to his Twitter followers...

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

It seems like SUCH a dumb thing to do, that you wonder whether a) it actually was a junior staff member (despite the KC signoff), or b) he does believe in the "all publicity is good publicity" adage. In either case, we'll never know.

Kenneth Cole has campaigned for AIDS awareness, so clearly he wants to be known for having an enlightened view of world issues. http://www.infomat.com/whoswho/kennethcole.html

over 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

It's not that all PR is good PR but bad PR can be a great opportunity. If you come back strongly from a crisis, your brand can be stronger than before the crisis. This is about PR crisis management. Yes he shouldn't have done it. No, he didn't do it on purpose. Now is the time tell his story which can include how his company's values on social issues. I think he did this.

I hardly agree that this will have much negative impact on KC's brand.

Anyway I have to go now and check out the KC spring sale.

over 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

ah, one can't edit a post here. Should read "Now is the time to tell his story which can include his company's values on social issues."

over 5 years ago

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Mustafa Stefan Dill

As a social media/PR pro working in the niche area of Muslim issues, or events concerning the Muslim community, this was interesting to see as it crossed the twittersphere. At the moment, it seems to have caused more of an uproar and discussion amongst PR/SM professionals than any other group: most everyone closely following and tweeting about the situation in Egypt have their hands full with that. That said, rest assured every one who's on Twitter who has a close stake in Egypt or the Arab world knows and will likely remember with their wallets, as will many who are simply supportive. He just permanently alienated several market segments. Those segments may not be important to him, so perhaps it was a calculated tradeoff on his part, we dont know.

over 5 years ago

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David Bell

I've got to agree with some of the other comments here in as much that it's not the "right thing" to do, but you've got to admit it worked in so far as getting people to talk about the brand and no doubt actually visit the website and then, dare I even mention it...buy something?

over 5 years ago

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David

I had never heard of the brand, but of course it has been brought to my attention now!
It seemed a lighthearted comment that was obviously designed to catch attention - and did so, very successfully.
As a PR consultant in the UK I wouldn't consider doing things quite in this way, but it has worked for them.
A few people will no doubt avoid buying from them but their profile has been lifted amongst many!

over 5 years ago

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Nagesh @ Karmasoftra

Well it seems , marketers think very contextually nowdays, which fire can give the maximum heat without burning your house.. KC would have easily dowsed this fire which burnt his house apparently by donating all the sale from the proceed to the Egypt affected people.. and would have acted on their website more towards the appeal of the people in egypt..

Keep the torch burning till it burns us..

Regards,
Nagesh

over 5 years ago

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Mona

LOL... any publicity is no good.

over 5 years ago

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Get Real

It was a comment made in jest. I think everyone needs to calm the hell down and stop making a big deal out of every little thing everyone says just because you can online. What a bunch of cry babies. No one was hurt. This is such a non issue. Go back to work and do something useful with your time.

over 5 years ago

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Boehm

Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post!
It's the little changes which will make the most significant changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

over 3 years ago

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Patino

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over 3 years ago

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