Marketers can learn a lot from the online kerfuffle surrounding JCPenney’s hiring Ellen Degeneres as a spokeswoman. JCPenney's successful navigation of politically tricky waters stands in contrast to the Susan G. Komen debacle that occurred a few weeks earlier.
In both cases, political and personal views boiled to the surface in social conversations across Twitter, Facebook, and newer channels such as Pinterest. But JCPenney handled its naysayers differently than Komen did.
JCPenney is standing strong and consistent. It seems keenly aware that this surge of attention can make or break its brand. By contrast, Komen’s approach seemed arrogant and out of touch. I don’t think Komen had any clue how quickly social network-powered protests could galvanize against them. JCPenney apparently understands how to ride this turbulent wave with the right balance of head and heart.
Here are some key factors that any brand should keep in mind to chart a clear course through unpredictable, emotional, and politically charged online storms
Examine your heart. The core values of your company must come from the top and be clear. Brands such as Zappos know that everything hinges on clearly communicating those values throughout the company, to customers, and to the general public. Zappos publishes its values on its Website.
Be truthful and consistent. Don’t lie. On the Internet, lies are revealed, repeated, and retweeted faster than you can retract them. Then they remain online to haunt you. Before you commit to anything publicly, know exactly where you stand, what you want to say, and how you will react to what is being said by your customers and the public online.
Don’t clam up. JCPenney could have hunkered down when One Million Moms came out with their manifesto and spent days or weeks powwowing about how to handle this backlash. Instead, it faced the protests head on and garnered the level of PR exposure that you only dream your marketing dollars will buy. Statements from JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson were prompt and genuine. Ellen also took an uncharacteristic stand on her show in a warm, articulate, heartfelt manner, using her very public spotlight to address the issues head-on.
Take the high road. Don’t bash your haters. JCPenney’s Johnson didn’t disparage One Million Moms but instead acknowledged that “one of the great things about America is people can speak their mind.” It is easy to take a cheap shot at the naysayers or to ignore, underestimate, and dismiss. But being respectful -- especially in a heated situation -- speaks volumes about your company and your brand.
No company can ever predict the reactions online to their business decisions, dealings, and campaigns. But one thing is certain: Consumers have unprecedented access to global publishing tools and inter-linked virtual soapboxes, and their praise and complaints spread rapidly. Starting with a deep and honest examination of where you stand before taking a stand, and understanding the turbocharged word-of-mouth of social networking, can help keep your brand afloat.
It looks like when faced with trouble, the best thing to do is face it head-on. Hiding burned Carnival too, while Moisés Chiullan recovered the Avenger controller PR disaster by taking questions and comments using Reddit.
Here's a recent story that was resolved even quicker than the SBK one. Target pulled from its shelves a Valentine's Day card that made a joke about stalking.
The source of the uproar, which started on Twitter, is nearly as interesting: Former porn actress Ginger Lee, most famously known as the one who went public about then Congressman Anthony Weiner prodding her to lie about their online relationship. Ms. Lee, herself a victim of a stalker for the past two years, said: "I can't believe a multinational company that says they are involved in the community is making light of a terrible thing like stalking."
The card, which on the front read "stalker is a harsh word" has on the inside the words, "i prefer valentine."
Social media can quickly elicit a firestorm and yes it can quickly die down but the flames can be rapidly fire up again as seen with Netflix last year. The key for companies is to understand how to manage social media with Pr experts versus in managing social PR.
Social media can be a bit like a minefield, especially for well-known entities. One false step and the net unleashes its fury of thousands of anonymous voices. The nice thing is, next week those same furious folks are usually onto something else.
JCP handled things well by not lashing back against the moms; this certainly will help take the sting away a bit.
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