Monday, October 8

Mixing Messages: KitchenAid Misfire Still Burns The Brand

It happens so often that it can hardly be considered news. KitchenAid was the latest company to send an errant tweet. This time it occurred during the presidential debate. The employee, apparently exuberant over President Obama's poor performance, decided to put out a tweet.

Tweet: "Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! 'She died 3 days b4 he became president."

The only problem was this tweet didn't reach the employee's personal followers, but rather the 26,000 people who follow KitchenAid. The company quickly pulled the tweet and issued an apology. The company added another response too, alluding to the idea that the employee will be fired or, at least, locked out of the brand's social media accounts.

KitchenAid: "It was carelessly sent in error by a member of our Twitter team who, needless to say, won't be tweeting for us anymore."

Lately, any time a reporter mentions it, the KitchenAid account responds with a direct request. The general idea is the cookie cutter approach designed to move the conversation out of the public.

KitchenAid: "My name is Cynthia Soledad, and I'm the head of KitchenAid. I'd like to talk on record about what happened. Pls DM me. Thx."

I've always had mixed feelings about the shift-to-DM approach. Maybe it works here. Maybe not. It seems KitchenAid might cover more ground if it just tweeted publicly about it or put up a direct link to a statement on its site. I mention this because despite apologies, it's still being shared around.

Naturally, since then, there have been a hundred stories about the subject: Los Angeles Times,  CBS, TIME, yadda yadda. It's all pretty boring and largely overinflated coverage. Along with them, many social media folks and communicators have already offered up the pat advice: always triple check which account you are on or don't run commercial and private accounts on the same app.

I held off writing about this last week for a different reason. 

The real lesson for corporations and small businesses is that this isn't a social media issue. The real lesson is to stop putting people who have no business being the company's spokesperson in a spokesperson position. The real lesson is that it wasn't an individual failing, but a management failing.

Long before social media, the press used to run stories about what they overheard from public figures and company spokespeople in physical settings too. Nowadays, social media just makes it that much more pronounced, permanent (screen shots), and public than what journalists used to share.

So why is it that companies continually place unseasoned communicators or even interns in a position that they would not dream of if it were a press conference, interview or public event? Sure, I know people like to understate social media and some even believe youth and exuberance to be an asset online.

But let's face the facts. Social media can be more damaging and longer lasting than most in-person slips, gaffes, and personal-turned-public quips. You need a spokesperson on the social brand, not a buffoon (unless your brand is all about buffoonery). KitchenAid proves the point perfectly.

Anyone who would have made such a crass and unfunny comment in public, whether it was intended for their personal account or the brand account, doesn't need to be in a spokesperson position. It doesn't even matter which political party with which they are affiliated, the comment shows a lack of compassion, empathy and character. If it were to be said (and I'm not saying it ought to be), those kind of comments are best reserved for the closest of circles in a private setting, like your house as opposed to a social network, which is a public venue. This one, in particular, isn't even fit for water cooler commentary.

Seriously. Social media is challenging enough without making it the cornerstone for your next crisis. Pick people who exhibit the skill sets of a spokesperson, not the least experienced or loosest lipped network jockey on the planet. And even then, remind those folks that once they are a spokesperson, errant tweets on personal accounts are just as likely to be traced back to the company too. So don't do it.
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