We want companies to freely use social media.
We demand honesty, transparency and authenticity from them on those channels.
And then punish them accordingly when they do so.
The latest example of this great social hypocrisy happened to Kenneth Cole, the chairman and chief creative officer of a shoe company of the same name. Cole’s offense? A badly timed joke on Twitter to promote a new line of shoes:
“Millions are in an uproar in (hashtag) Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”
He used the hashtag associated with the civilian uprising in Egypt that has already claimed the lives of 10 people and left hundreds injured.
Cole deleted the offending tweet several hours later and issued an apology on Facebook. But it was too late. The backlash started and tipped late yesterday afternoon. The punishment for Cole’s gaffe has been more than 400 news articles, broadcast coverage on major networks and cable TV, condemnation on Twitter and Facebook, and scores of breathless blog posts lecturing him about everything from global politics to best practices on social media channels.
The first comment of 346 (and growing) on his Facebook apology reads as follows:
“You are an a*****e. No excuses.”
The rest don’t get any better.
An opportunistic comedian has opened a parody Twitter account about Mr. Cole called @KennethColePR. The account has more than 5,000 followers and is tweeting out vicious nuggets like:
“Twitterverse: Off to Chinatown elementary school for recruiting event, that spring line won’t sew itself!”
I can feel Cole’s headache from here.
The punishment, of course, does not fit the crime. Making light of a deadly serious situation that can change the course of history in Africa and the Middle East to promote leather loafers is not a good idea. But likely Cole did want many of us do – fired off a tweet that he thought was funny. In hindsight, he realized that he had stepped over the line and deleted it and apologized.
If we want transparency. If we want honesty. And if we want authenticity then we need to take the good with the bad. And we need to forgive and move on when people – even CEOs – make mistakes.
Disclosure: Since writing this post, I’ve learned that Kenneth Cole is a client of Weber Shandwick, where I work. I do not work on the account, but obviously my colleagues do. I was not aware of this association when I wrote the post.
Kenneth Cole on Twitter
Kenneth Cole’s apology on Facebook
AP story on Kenneth Cole
Fake Kenneth Cole Twitter account
Photo by katsamaniego (via Flickr)