The subject of this week’s blog revolves around an ethical issue that I find particularly significant when businesses use social media: the use of current world event, in particular tragic ones, in the promotion, branding or marketing of a business’s product or service on social media.
I never thought that, in an assessed piece of writing that contributes to my degree, I would be using a Buzzfeed article to form the bedrock of my argument, however, as it so happens, 19 Companies That Made Huge Social Media Fails supports my argument so well that it warrants inclusion in its entirety. But first I want to make my feeling on the matter very clear: exploiting a tragedy to further promote ones products is extremely tasteless and ethically and morally wrong, akin to the people on Facebook who post pictures of cancer sufferers or wounded soldiers or recently deceased celebrities with the caption ‘1 like = 1 respect’, in an attempt to improve their social media standing (a tactic actually employed by MSN and many others detailed in the list).
The article contains numerous examples. Concerned about the violent uprising and civil unrest in Egypt? Don’t worry, they’ve only heard the rumour of retail store Kenneth Cole’s new spring collection (Number 1). Worried that the hashtag #Aurora may be to do with the movie theatre shooting? No it’s probably to do with Celeb Boutiques new Kim Kardashian inspired Aurora dress (Number 7). Hoping that your loved one will be okay when powerful storms hit the east coast of America? You shouldn’t be because Urban Outfitters is offering free shipping (Number 9).
I understand that social media now plays an important role in a company’s marketing strategy. If done properly, it provides access to millions of potential customers at the click of a button, but every other week there is a story of a so-called ‘social media fail’, where a tweet is sent out by a company’s Twitter account that is inappropriate or controversial, and within hours has gone viral. Case in point would be #hasJustinelandedyet, a top trend that went viral after a PR executive tweeted a racist aids joke before boarding a flight to South Africa, or the admittedly rather tame tweet that led to the resignation of MP Emily Thornberry.
The issues lies with how popular social media is and how connected everyone on ita is. Playing on the six degrees of separation theory, Sysomos found out that the average Twitter user is just 5 steps away from anyone else on Twitter. Therefore, even if a distasteful tweet is deleted within minutes of posting, it is incredibly likely that the tweet will have been screenshotted and sent around the world, which is how topics go viral and how the reputation businesses and employees are tarnished. The remarkable thing is that this ethical issue is certainly one that is easily avoided using simple common sense or having clear social media guidelines, but is one that I fear will continue indefinitely as companies underestimate the power and reach of social media.
Calderon, A. (2013) 19 Companies That Made Huge Social Media Fails. Buzzfeed Online. 22nd May. (http://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/19-companies-that-made-huge-social-media-fails).
Withnall, A. (2013) PR executive Justine Sacco apologises after losing job over racist Aids ‘joke’ prompted #HasJustineLandedYet Twitter storm. The Independent Online. 22nd November. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/pr-executive-justine-sacco-apologises-after-losing-job-over-racist-aids-joke-provoked-hasjustinelandedyet-twitter-storm-9020809.html).
Donald, A. (2014) Emily Thornberry: How one tweet led to her resignation. BBC News Online. 21st November. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30142579).
Cheng, A. (2010) Six Degrees of Separation, Twitter Style. Sysomos Inc Resources. April. (http://www.sysomos.com/insidetwitter/sixdegrees/).