I can’t believe this really happened.

Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 1.29.15 PM
Kmart tweets about the massacre of school children in Newton, and adds a promotional hashtag.

But it did, Business Insider carried the story along with people’s reaction. Kmart’s explanation is that they were ending the #Fab15Toys campaign in light of the Newton events, I don’t think anyone reading the tweet would have understood that.

At the time of 9/11 my company was about to run a TV ad campaign in the US. Not only did we not run the campaign (on the basis the timing would have been insensitive), we donated the TV time to Red Cross. It’s a story that’s never made the news – because creating PR about doing the right thing is ugly. I really struggle to understand how a company like Kmart with all the resources in the world can make such an insensitive communication error.

Not only is it incredibly insensitive there are precedents, two that come to mind are;

  • Kenneth Cole suffered backlash in 2011 when he tweeted an insensitive comment connecting the uprisings in Cairo to the new spring collection. He apologised.
  • Gap tweeted about Hurricane Sandy and shopping – in the same message. And later apologised

Do these companies think that any publicity is good publicity  Рor are they really that stupid?

Every company using social media should have a content plan and set of standards around it. Every company should have a crisis communication plan that includes social media channels. Check yours today – make sure it includes something like;

In a time of crisis or natural disaster not directly connected do [insert company name here] you may tweet messages of support.

– Do not combine the hashtag of that event with any company promotional hashtag or link.

– Before you hit send think “how would a victim feel reading this tweet?”

Discuss it with your social media team, show them the impact, add it to your social media training. Keep doing this until they get the message – it’s not OK to promote your product on the back of a trending crisis hashtag.

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