What Not to do with Hashtags – The Kenneth Cole Debacle

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Twitter is known for being a medium that allows users to share information with a large number of people instantly, and when a well-known company tweets something users deem inappropriate, the backlash can come just as quickly.

On February 3, clothing designer Kenneth Cole tweeted from his account: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo-KC.”

The response from the Twitter community was immediate. By incorporating the hashtag #Cairo, which was being used to share updates about the political protests taking place in Egypt, it appeared to many that he was using the widely followed hashtag to selfishly promote the company’s clothing.

News outlets including Forbes, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters wrote about the tweets, and a Kenneth Cole Twitter impersonator surfaced (@KennethColePR), mocking the company’s lack of sensitivity and understanding of foreign relations.

The backlash eventually resulted in the Kenneth Cole Twitter account removing the tweet and issuing an apology via Twitter that read “Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC,” but articles about the insensitive and very un-politically correct reference continued to post.

Whether the tweet was sent with the intention of creating buzz or just a one-off tweet with no intention at all, the move caused a huge negative reaction, and highlighted that even a tweet sent in jest can cause serious repercussions.

Although this was a major misstep by Kenneth Cole, the company was smart to issue a response via the same medium where the mistake occurred, as well as use other social media platforms like Facebook to post an even more detailed apology.

By dealing with the crisis in the medium where the discussion started and continued, those already following the issue can stay updated on the latest developments. While it is always better to not have made such a poorly thought out statement in the first place, a quick response can help to mitigate damages, as seen by the coverage that noted the apology and removal of the initial tweet, reminding readers that the company did take corrective action.