Of Kenneth Cole; Twitter; and Crossing the Line

“The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones.”
– from ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare

By now you’ve heard about this tweet issued by fashion designer Kenneth Cole where, in an obvious case of insensitivity, he tried to connect the world-changing events in Egypt to his spring line:

Ouch! And for this he has rightfully drawn the scorn of the Web. That’s what he did wrong.  You know it, I know it and he  knows it.

What he did right next was to remove the offending tweet,  but not try to cover it up; instead he acknowledged the mistake and apologized publicly within a few hours:  

When negative reaction persisted, he did so again, more extensively. Still, “the evil lives on”, these days in the form of first page Google search results.

But, as inevitable as that sounds,  mistakes will be made – so create an action plan now for handling the blowback.

Cover-ups Never Work

People always ask me how to remove negative social mentions online. The truth is they can’t be summarily deleted. Manipulating social media to obfuscate the truth never works. I can cite examples. The social space is in many ways self-correcting, and the truth will out. Always. The best tactic: do good things. And get those good things (thought leadership examples; blog entries; positive reviews of personal appearances) published online. Get them in front of key influencers and, this is vital, do everything while maintaining three core principles:

Accuracy; Integrity; Transparency

Social media reputation management does not work any other way. Don’t let the good be interred with the bones of the brand’s or individual’s reputation when crises hit. Be both reactive and proactive.

Of course, the best way to handle a PR crisis is to avoid them in the first place. As a brand, Kevin Cole is known for being socially relevant and supportive of social causes — often in a controversial way. As such, his brand supporters and loyalists will not likely be affected by this social media faux pas compared to those for whom he was an unknown.

In a sense, he’s lucky that it was he who made the intended-to-be-pithy-but-ultimately-offensive remark. Had a social media manager in his company done this he/she’d likely be looking for a new job.

But then again, in the hands of a professional, maybe the mistake would have been avoided.

Full disclosure: In a past life I worked for El Greco Leather, a company owned by Kenneth Cole’s father and run with his two brothers. I never had any direct contact or dealings with Kenneth (though I do wear his shoes)

About Ron Casalotti
I am part of that lucky generation that started out when watching TV meant choosing from three networks, three independents and PBS. Now, I work in new media for businesses and organizations - but these thoughts are my own.

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