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Lessons to takeaway from H&M’s PR disaster

Business moves fast these days. But if business is quick, social media is Usain Bolt. One little post spirals out of control and within a few hours, you have a full-on brand crisis.

Don’t believe me? Just ask H&M. The fashion retailer recently found itself under fire for an ad that featured a black child modeling a jumper with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle” written on the front.

Style blogger Stephanie Yeboah originally shared the advert on Twitter, writing: “Whose idea was it @hm to have this little sweet black boy wear a jumper that says ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’?” Within a day, the post had been shared nearly 14,000 times.

H&M reacted quickly, pulling the ad as well as the jumper at the center of the controversy and issuing an apology. But the damage had already been done. They lost collaboration deals with artists like The Weeknd and protestors even trashed a few of their stores in South Africa. The social media storm had blown off the feed and into the real world.

So, how can businesses prevent a social media storm of their own or minimise the impact of a crisis?

  1. Know where your brand stands

With today’s decisive political climate, brand values have been put into the spotlight. From Keurig to Starbucks to Pepsi, we’ve seen how difficult it is for businesses to sit on the fence. Consumers want to support brands that align with their personal views and they’re not afraid to use their wallets to show favour or disdain. It is more important than ever that brands know and live their values.

For instance, when US President Donald Trump issued a controversial immigration ban, Airbnb said it would provide free housing for refugees and anyone not allowed in the US. Uber, on the other hand, was criticised for advertising their rates in the middle of a taxi strike in response to the ban. Brands should stand for something bigger than their products or services. This shouldn’t be confused, however, with taking a moral stance simply for marketing purposes.

  1. Be proactive in monitoring conversations and mentions

If you don’t know what’s being said about you, how can you respond? Invest in social media monitoring tools and services that enable you to keep a close eye on conversations that are important to your brand. Misinformation or negative coverage can spread like wildfire, so it’s important to get on the front-foot as quickly as possible.

Social media monitoring also allows you to better understand where and how your customers get their information and what is trending within your target audience. This insight allows you to get closer to your customers and provides more context around what’s important to them.

  1. Focus on quality instead of vanity metrics

Many brands still prioritise vanity metrics such as clicks and impressions over quality metrics, such as engagement, comments, shares, retweets and conversions. Engagement metrics offer a much clearer picture of how consumers are interacting with your brand and their feelings towards it. This makes it easier to stop trouble before it starts.

You might have a post or ad that appears to be ‘going viral’ but no one wants to go viral for the wrong reasons. Monitoring consumers’ sentiment and importantly, changes in sentiment will help you keep an eye on potential problems.

  1. Make building organic communities a priority

If you find your brand dealing with an unwarranted negative post, you might be happily surprised to see your most loyal customers coming to your rescue (if it’s deserved!). I love seeing consumers correct misinformation or defend brands they love. That only, happens, however, when they’re invested in it. That’s why it’s more important than ever to strive for authentic, relevant social communities that prioritise relationships.

Be positive and interactive with your social media channels. And never, ever pay to grow your following or you’ll be left to face your social media battles alone.

  1. Be authentic…always

The H&M scandal became worse once journalists noted it wasn’t the first culturally tone-deaf misstep for the retailer. If you can build a bank of brand goodwill, you may be able to mitigate the impact of negative stories.

Look for opportunities to increase the number of high-quality positive stories about your brand. Be proactive about seeking and publishing reviews from happy customers and contribute valuable content to trustworthy media publications. You may not be able to make the negative stories go away, but you can at least give customers other stories to read that demonstrate what your brand is all about!

The best way to avoid a social media storm is to be real with your customers. Ensure that your content adds value to their lives and don’t trick or mislead them. And remember that while your brand might be local, social media is global. Prioritising diverse perspectives within your business will help ensure your messages are inclusive, nuanced and interpreted as they were meant.


About the author

Lauren Trucksess is an independent content marketing and social media consultant. She founded Latitude Content as a way to help brands create content that drives stronger business results. Originally from the US, Lauren has worked in Australia’s best integrated communications and public relations agencies and has led content-driven campaigns for some of the world’s top B2B and B2C technology brands.

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Lauren Trucksess

Lauren Trucksess

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