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What Not to do with Hashtags - The Kenneth Cole Debacle
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 Journaland 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.
Google and Microsoft Get Aggressive
They say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but that’s exactly what Google did this week when it accused Microsoft’s Bing of copying its search results. What followed was an all-out war of words between both companies on their corporate blogs and Twitter. Everyone knows Google and Microsoft have been duking it out quietly for years – but this brought their battle in to the public eye like never before.
The initial accusation appeared on SearchEngineLand and explained that Google was running a sting operation to prove Microsoft was stealing its search results. Microsoft initially responded in a post on ZDNet stating outright, “We do not copy Google’s results.” Microsoft later provided more details in a blog post of its own which explained they use opt-in customer data in addition to signals and features to refine search results – but did not state one way or another that they do or do not use Google’s information to do so. Does your head hurt yet?
More back and forth ensued throughout the day – you can read more details on Techmeme’s news ofthe story. Amidst all of the accusations and denials, the gloves came off on Twitter when Microsoft’s corporate communications lead, Frank Shaw, posted three tweets hoping to put Google on the defense.
Google's Matt Cutts responded with this tweet:
Google then kicked things up a notch, posting to its blog with a detailed breakdown of the investigation: they had been testing obscure search terms such as “hiybbprqag” and found Bing returned identical search results to Google. Shaw’s tweets and Google’s post triggered another Twitter conversation involving Shaw, Cutts and journalist Dave Winer. The next day, Microsoft posted a final blog, “Setting the record straight,” which stated point blank, “We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop,” and accused Google of rigging the results to make Microsoft look fraudulent.
So what can we take away from this Google-said, Microsoft-said situation, other than the feeling that we just watched two schoolboys fighting on the playground? If nothing else, it’s an interesting use of social media to bypass the messaging gatekeeper. The altercation began as-reported by the media: Google accused Microsoft through SearchEngineLand; Microsoft responded through ZDNet. But once the executives took to their Twitter handles, they could speak without a filter, which allowed them to present their viewpoints in a fast and direct (albeit catty) manner. Another thing to note is the audience of both executives. Shaw has around 3,700 followers – Cutts has an astounding 89,000 – does that have an effect on the fallout of the situation? Perhaps. As for the winner and loser in this battle – we’ll leave that up to you.
The Ever-Evolving Role of Social Media in Political Discourse
Despite ongoing questions about the long-term viability and profitability of Twitter, social media continues to play a significant role in political discourse throughout the world. During the past two weeks, Egypt has experienced a political crisis that resulted in the government shutting down all Internet access in the country, largely prompted by the government’s fear that dissenting citizens would continue to use Twitter and Facebook to organize protests.
On January 28, the Internet in Egypt went dark, and although cell phone service was generally available, text messaging was not, a measure taken to prevent people from using texts to post to social networks. The Internet blackout lasted until February 2.
The rise of digital media and social networks has allowed users in areas of political turmoil to share the events with the rest of the world, including earlier this year in Tunisia and in Iran in 2009. The images and sentiment captured provides powerful information about the events as they unfold, and the content shared through social media is increasingly used by traditional broadcast and print outlets to provide information with readers and viewers as it happens.
But what happens when the Internet is no longer an option, and citizens can’t rely on it communicate with each other and to share the events as they unfold with the rest of the world? Burma is the only other country that has resorted to cutting off citizens’ access to the Internet in response to a political disturbance, but because Facebook and Twitter were primary tools in organizing political rallies in Egypt, these tools have become even more crucial for Egyptian protesters.
In this case, Google and Twitter acted quickly, and in just one weekend, set up a service called Speak to Tweet. With this service, people could call a number and leave a voicemail that is then hosted on the website of a company Google recently acquired, SayNow, and then tweeted to followers. The quick action demonstrates not only the importance of social media, but also the innovation in increasing its reach and ability, as well as the emergence of new platforms like SayNow that incorporates voice into the social media mix.
The situation in Egypt not only enforces how social media enables connections with friends and family, but it enables people to stay connected to the rest of the world. During issues of conflict when outside journalists can be met with hostility, it is more important than ever to give the people the tools to share their experience with others.