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Twitter, tragic events and the price of social media stupidity

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A dress shop committed an act of unfathomable stupidity today when it tweeted that references to “Aurora,” site of the horrific theatre massacre in Colorado, were “clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress.”

The insensitive tweet, which wasn’t the only one of the day, has trigged a rightful cascade of contempt that could stain the company. At the same time, the fallout from the tweet shows how social media is changing the nature of crisis communications.

The company at the center of the storm is Celeb Boutique, a U.K. outfit that sells celebrity-inspired fashion online. Its nightmare began when its Twitter account published this:

The tweet, which remained up for more than an hour, went viral via the Huffington Post and others. News and fashion sites began reviling Celeb Boutiques as did, needless to say, other Twitter users:

Incredibly, Celeb Boutiques exacerbated the situation by explaining that “Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend” and then followed up its half-hearted apology with:

The company has now removed the light-hearted “fabulous friday” tweet and its Twitter account appears to have fallen into a stunned silence after issuing a longer four-part apology.

The incident has proved remarkable not only for the depth of the Celeb Boutique’s idiocy but for the virulent and mob-like response it has invoked. As of Friday afternoon, Twitter is alight with thousands of people calling the company vile names and demanding that it pay money to a victim’s fund.

A similar drama is unfolding around a Twitter account associated with the National Rifle Association which published: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” The NRA claims that the tweet, which has since been removed, was published by an individual who was not yet aware of the events in Colorado. Even though the NRA tweet appears to have been a case of bad timing more than anything else, it has still generated a wave of angry responses.

In the bigger picture, today’s tweets demonstrate two things. The first is simply a reminder that the media and public are hyper-attuned to appearances of callousness at a time of tragedy. Recall the photos of President Bush flying over Hurricane Katrina. The issue was not that the President didn’t care — it was that he appeared not to care. The situation was much the same with today’s tweeters who were almost certainly ignorant or unlucky rather than callous and bad. The insults raining down on them represent an urge to vent over the senselessness of the Colorado shootings as much as they do anger at the NRA or Celeb Boutique.

While public anger at a time of tragedy is not new, the speed at which it is expressed is new. Social media means not just that a company like Celeb Boutique can damage its brand more quickly and broadly than ever before, but that it has far less time to undo that damage. In the past, a company could detect a bad news story early on and work with professionals to spin the story. In the case of Celeb Boutique, its chance to fix the damage has already come and gone.

(Image by RTimages via Shutterstock)

12 Responses to “Twitter, tragic events and the price of social media stupidity”

  1. Sorry to break into this conversation, butI think someone is posting this exact blog post on thier site and claiming the content as thier own. You linked to my old Katrina post (thanks btw) and I noticed when I got hits from this other site so I checked it out and the content appears to be the same.

    Great post, by the way! And good comments too.

    • Hi Moni, thanks for the kind words and thanks for flagging the plagiarism! We’ve sent on a note (pretty astonishing that someone who purports to stand for “brand journalism” would engage in such a blatant rip-off!)

  2. Murad Hassan

    Checkout the miserable twitter campaign organized by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation, MMPRC. The planned to trend #sunnysideoflife which is the tag line for marketing the Maldives Islands. What went wrong? Timing, when more than the half of the country thinks current sitting govenment is there by a coup d’état. The, now opposition who are a lot more fluent in social media and Internet took it around and made so much bad publicity, that now less than 1% is on the positive association for PR. The officials who drove this campaign from the govt authority are reasonably vocal against a large crowd who are more fluent on social media, and ntimidated them just before the launch. The same officials didn’t listen to the advice to delay or stop the campaign. Checkout #sunnysideoflife what was an offices campaign that was targeted at trending it on the 12july and backfired.

  3. Whether if its on Twitter or Facebook, we sure have to be more careful when expressing our thoughts. There are times to make jokes and mourn. But the stupidity of these moron at Celebrity Boutique cant be tolerated.

    • Wilson Remed

      Can’t be tolerated? This was an innocent, if upsetting, mistake by a UK based company. No harm was intended, little if any real world harm was done.

      • Cendrine Marrouat

        People are clearly quick to judge and express rage instead of thinking about real solutions. There is no place for forgiveness anymore.

        What example are we setting for our children here?

        This self-righteous belief that the world revolves around the US is annoying.

      • @Jim Dempsey I’m sure that they knew that #Aurora was not trending because of their Aurora dress (hence the “;)” ), but I strongly suspect they had no idea WHY it had become a trending topic. Maybe they thought it was about some fancy northern lights as a result of the recent-ish large CME. “Google is your friend” obviously applies, but I doubt anyone consciously decided to sell a dress on the back of a mass shooting.

        As I argued above – brain fart.

  4. Will White

    Sorry Bush didn’t care about NOLA it had nothing to do with appearances. “Heck of a job Brownie” ring any bells”? Same problem with Celeb Boutique. It is just a hell of a lot harder to hide from stupidity these days and the general public doesn’t have a whole lot of patience for stupid and callous these days.

    • Unfortunately, we are all stupid and callous on occasion – our foresight is really awful relative to our hindsight. The only alternative is to resort to endlessly repeating empty slogans and well-worn platitudes, which is exactly where are politics are going these days.

      We need to find a better balance than apoplectic self-righteous rage over every brain-fart.