Damage Control Lessons: KitchenAid Apologizes to Obama for Offensive Tweet
KitchenAid is in the midst of a crisis communications firestorm after a member of its social media team sent an offensive tweet during the presidential debate.
“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president,’” tweeted @KitchenAidUSA to slightly more than 25,000 followers.
The tweet references President Barack Obama’s comment that his grandmother passed away just days before he won the prior election.
While KitchenAid took down the tweet, it was retweeted and quickly spread throughout Twitter. As the tweet took on a life of its own, Cynthia Soledad, Senior Director, KitchenAid Brand, fired off successive posts stating her role at the company, an apology to the President and his family, news that the original author of the offensive post would no longer be tweeting, and several open communications to media outlets for on-the-record interviews regarding the brewing crisis.
Here is a complete timeline of the @KitchenAidUSA tweets as of 11:00PM PT following the debate:
So how can you prevent a social media crisis at your organization? Here are 5 tips to help you steer clear of damaging your brand online.
It is a widely known, yet somewhat less followed, rule that the members of your social media team should be your organization’s spokespeople – i.e. not interns. Regardless of your available resources you must ensure that only trained spokespeople access your account. Your online voice lives well beyond the moment a post was written. (While Ms. Soledad confirmed that the insensitive tweet’s author “…won’t be tweeting for us anymore” we do not yet know anything more about the originator of the post and what their official capacity was at KitchenAid.)
Training and Policy
Staying topical has its risks, leaving little room for error or a review process. As you train members of your social media team, provide them with ample time to draft practice posts that can be reviewed prior to providing them access to the official account. Draft a social media policy with the Human Resources department regarding usage guidelines, the penalties for any offenses, and outlining clearly defined roles of each team member.
It is inevitable that you or members of your social media team may have multiple accounts for personal and professional use. When drafting your social media policy it is critical to have all staff members include statements on their personal accounts that their posts are their own and do not reflect the opinions of their employer.
Mission and Morals
Hopefully your organization’s staff members are “on mission” and aware of the longevity of comments posted online. If social media has taught us anything it is that a little dose of paranoia is a good thing. When drafting a post be aware of how it may be taken out of context or misunderstood. Take a moment to set it aside and then come back to, even if it is only a minute later. Everyone has been known to say something regrettable in the heat of the moment or voice a truly tasteless “joke” to garner a few laughs. Hold your post up and ask yourself if it is in the spirit of your mission before spreading it online.
Plan for the Worst
Even if you follow the above advice there will be a day in your life when something slips through the cracks. Hopefully it will not be as offensive or attractive to the media as the KitchenAid tweet. You need to be prepared and have a crisis communications plan that clearly states the necessary steps for external and internal action.
What are your views regarding the KitchenAid tweet? Did they handle the crisis well so far? How would you have done things differently?
Brian Adams (@brianadamspr) is the US Communications Director @WildAid. He also consults with nonprofits, including Komera Project and Samahope, regarding communications strategy. Brian was previously Senior Director of Communications at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and the head of Media and Community Relations for the MSPCA-Angell. A version of this story first ...