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Social Marketing Brands and Risk

When asked to talk about the challenges and risks of a brand associated with social media (SM) I immediately thought of epic fails. You might remember the Kenneth Cole hoopla about a year ago?

Evidently the designer Kenneth Cole (himself) is active on Twitter. Well last February he hijacked the hastag #cairo. Yes, the same one that was used to report the troubled news in Egypt. He sent out a Tweet that said, “”Millions are in uproar in #Cairo.”

He did this to promote a new Spring fashion collection.

This set the Twitterverse abuzz with lots of protesters saying the fashion designer was insensitive to real issues in the world: People dying in Egypt.

Many debated whether or not the Tweet that came from a Blackberry and was tagged with a “KC” was written by Cole himself. Or was it someone on his team? Did it mater?

Indeed there was an apology Tweet that went out a day later <!/KennethCole/status/33206062215598080>

“Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment –KC”

Perhaps there should have been a hyperlink to a more formal, polished apology? They didn’t. They did launch another Twitter handle @KennethColePR was established to help put out the fire. It doesn’t seem like many accepted the apology.

Sure it makes sense for a designer to be active in SM. When this happened, the company had Facebook and Twitter pages. Prior to the incident, the Twitter account seemed to connect with KC customers. It posted events and sales and responded to Tweets.

The brand was also all over traditional media from billboards to print mags and transit ads. The campaigns were integrated. Thematic elements were consistent with a blend of beautiful photography and art direction.

Whether online or offline media, the ads were always controversial <;.

“Over the years I’ve used my brand platform to raise awareness about vital social issues to remind people that it’s not just what they look like on the outside, but who they are on the inside; and not just what they stand in, but what they stand for,” says Kenneth Cole. “When I first started out, the means of communicating we have today didn’t exist. So in this new age of social media, I wanted to use this campaign to re-energize a debate with customers and like minded individuals around certain provocative, and at the same time, defining social issues.” <;

So what went wrong? Well it is clear to me that there was no overall SM strategy in place. Not to mention, it didn’t seem as if there was any type of crisis prevention in the loop until it happened (or it never would have).

Social media maven Jeremiah Owyang shared some great insights and tips about crisis planning and preparing for social media attacks.

<;. Although he wrote in a couple years ago, the advice is still critical:

  • Companies must have a community strategy –don’t jump without a parachute.


  • Hire seasoned community managers –don’t relegate to PR intern.


  • Plan and practice for the worse –yet live for the best.


Social media can be the best and worst thing that’s happened to a brand. What do you think Kenneth Cole should have done about this? Have you seen more recent epic social media fails? If so, share them here.


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2 thoughts on “Social Marketing Brands and Risk

  1. Thanks for this great post on Kenneth Cole’s social media snafu. You asked about others, and I found a few in this blog by Jeremiah Owyang ( There are great examples from all industries and all social media tools.

  2. Sometimes these bigwigs in companies should have even thier personal accounts filtered or managed because they can really damage the brand. In some cases it could trickle down to the point where the company may even need to submit apologies and devote time to perception control rather than designing in this case.

    Here is an example of an advertisment that is insenstive:

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