Spending a lot of time online, I occasionally see various brands in the midst of a social media meltdown. Originally, I would just grab the proverbial popcorn and watch them burn the situation to the ground, but since I became responsible for five Twitter accounts with a combined reach of about two hundred thousand people, I stopped with the snack foods and started trying to learn from other peoples’ mistakes.
I was with friends today when I heard about the latest blow-up. A few of the women were talking about Black Milk, a brand of nerdy leggings that many of my friends either own, or want to own. I’ve even sent them business before, they’re that ubiquitous within my circle of friends. They’re known for being accepting and empowering toward anyone who wants to wear their leggings, unlike, say, some other brands.
One of Black Milk’s social media people had posted the following image:
Seems harmless, right? Some thought it was funny, but some thought, “Wait, this meme is usually: Desired outcome, actual crappy outcome, hilarity ensues.” You might post a picture of a neat cake you saw on Pinterest, and then a hilarious failure at attempting to reproduce the cake. At the very least, at the most innocent, the image that was posted says, “I want to look like this hottie, but all that ends up happening is I look like Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik)”.
Now, if you want to get into just how offensive this could be to women, I suggest you check out Jacqui Collins’ blog, who can address it more from that perspective. While I feel like I understand and sympathize with the issue, I’m not a woman, don’t wear Black Milk, and am really here to discuss what happened after the picture was posted.
What happened next was that a number of women posted some pretty level-headed posts about how they were offended by the image, and a discussion ensued. I’ll admit, there may have been inappropriate or offensive content that I couldn’t see, because for the day that this was up, the Black Milk team heavily moderated much of the content that posted about how they were offended.
It led to Jacqui, one of their huge supporters, being banned from their page. It led to me, someone who chimed in on the situation (a much abbreviated version of this blog post), being banned from their page. With as calm and rational as my post was (sadly, I didn’t screenshot it, I didn’t think it was going to matter), I can’t imagine how many other people were banned. And then, after banning people, they posted time after time about how they were in the right, and if you didn’t like it, you could just un-like the page.
Here’s the core of the position that I’m trying to bring to you today: Sometimes, you say something that hurts someone, and you didn’t mean it that way. In fact, you have no idea how the hell they took it that way, and whether you’re on social media, or you’re having a discussion in person, the polite (and correct, for a brand that sells things to customers) response is usually, “I’m sorry that what I said hurt or offended you. I didn’t mean it that way.” In fact, you can even go on to say what it was that you were thinking, and maybe the other person(s) will understand where you were coming from. But you shouldn’t tell customers (or, people in general) over and over that you’re right, that they’re wrong, and if you don’t like it, leave.
Here’s a collection of their posts, and my comments on each:
For someone who’s not familiar with the, “I’m sorry I upset you, I didn’t mean to” method, this is the classic opening: “You’re wrong”. Man, did it take me a long time to wrap my head around this, and this happened constantly in my own relationship. I’m still trying not to do this! Telling the person they’re wrong usually only aggravates the situation, and to top it off, they escalated the situation right to the usual, “Well if you don’t like it, you can leave.”
They started to ban people and delete comments from the page. I can understand this from a moderator’s standpoint, but the things that started to disappear weren’t limited to nasty comments, but productive conversation. Just, a conversation that Black Milk didn’t want to have. Of course, you can email them at any time if you want to call them out privately…
Now they’ve dug their trenches, and they aren’t going anywhere. At this point, they could have just stopped posting and cut their losses, but they kept it up in full force. Again, if you don’t like it, shop elsewhere!
"Please keep in mind that there are less whiners than non-whiners, so it’s not a huge deal. And the needs of the many Facebook fans outweigh the needs of the few." -James T. Kirk
Wait, Kirk didn’t say that.
"There are some people who support us, and we’re looking to those people for encouragement while the rest of you hate on us."
Here’s where they wind things down. At this point, it’s been almost 24 hours of back and forth posting, the picture/topic has almost 3,000 likes, and who knows how many people actually viewed the fiasco. Here’s what this final post conveys:
- We’re tired of dealing with this, so we’re deleting everything about it.
- It was just a joke, and you’re still wrong if you were offended.
- The people who were banned, and saying that they were respectfully sharing their opinion, were not respectfully sharing their opinion, and we were justified in banning them all.
- If you don’t like it, shop elsewhere.
- We’re jerks.
"But Marc, you’ve analyzed this from a rational perspective thus far and now you’re calling them names!", said the imaginary voice of a potential reader. Well, yeah. Take a look at number five. They were almost there, they had heard peoples’ complaints, they maybe understood the issue and… they have integrity? Surely, they must have meant the secondary definition of integrity, as in, "the state of being whole and undivided", because they doubled-down on "you’re all wrong" and signed it as all of them. Yes, all of them. So if you were concerned that this was one rogue social media manager, it’s not, they’re saying that all they’ve said represents the entire company. They have removed the benefit of the doubt that this was one person’s screw-up, and have gone out of their way to let you know it was everyone’s screw-up.
From a certain perspective, the error wasn’t so much in the picture, but the way they handled it. They alienated numerous fans and customers by sticking to their guns, and continued to do so for the next 24 hours when they could have apologized, or at the very least, let it go (just like they were suggesting that everyone else do!). Not backing down when this happens in person may lose you a single relationship. Not backing down when this happens online, with your fans, loses you the goodwill of some of those fans, and untold future sales.