Figure 1: Huffington Post
The 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi has posed a quandary for many companies. On paper the Olympic ideal of sportsmanship bringing together people of different colors and backgrounds is too compelling to ignore. Yet Russia’s politically driven discrimination of homosexuals tarnishes that very ideal and runs the risk of incurring nasty comparisons to the 1936 games held in Nazi Germany.
Savvy brands have found many clever ways to distance themselves from Russian discrimination. Google placed rainbow colors prominently on their home page (as a side note, co-founder Sergey Brin emigrated from Russia when he was young). The Guardian colored the G in their logo. Chevrolet is running celebration of diversity tv ads. The Huffington Post applied rainbow colors to their logo on their main twitter account.
Figure 2: The Guardian wrapped its G with the rainbow flag for the Olympics
Each of these signs of solidarity is rather subtle, probably calculated to get the right message to the right people, while not offending those still living in the 1950s. But what if someone in an organization, perhaps caught up in the enthusiasm to be on the right side of history, sends out a message so blatantly obvious no one would miss it? Should the organization stand behind him or her, even if the anti-discrimination support hadn’t been sanctioned in advance? Or should the organization back track and potentially discipline the person managing the social media account? Should it apologize to those it believes are “offended” by the message? What about those it offends by an apology assuming there was a reason to be offended in the first place? Would they deserve an apology too?
The Lotus F1 Team Kiss That Dare Not Show Itself
Yet the following tweet, and its subsequent deletion, risks landing the Lotus F1 Team in college text book discussions on social media failings (#fail):
Figure 3: The Lotus F1 Team gay kiss post on Twitter
Several hours after its posting, an “apology” was tweeted and the original post was deleted:
Figure 4: The Lotus F1 Team “apology” tweet
Concerns about Russian funding led to the deletion according to the BBC. I assume they’re right. The photo might have been provocative in a Oliviero Toscani campaign for Benetton 30 years ago but I doubt it would raise too many eyebrows today, at least not among those following Team Lotus on twitter.
Sentiment Analysis: Lotus should have kept the Tweet
If we perform sentiment analysis on the replies to the tweet, they look pretty positive:
Figure 5: Replies to the Lotus F1 Team gay kiss tweet
The same can not be said about the Lotus “apology”:
Figure 6: Replies to Lotus Team F1 “apology” for gay kiss tweet
Social Media Mistakes Happen
Companies successful with social media work hard to find their voice and to maintain it. Sometimes they get called out for pushing the limits too hard – which leads to the inevitable apology. Sometimes a post, while sincere, is so clearly a mistake no one is going to miss it if it gets deleted. Ah, but there’s the rub. As I say all too often to my students, the internet has a memory (actually, it has many memories). One just needs to know where and how to search.
The Lotus F1 Team has a twitter account known for edgy tweets. Racing is edgy. With the right dose of creativity, even boredom can be depicted in a captivating way.
Figure 7: Even boredom can be edgy
So this begs the question: does Lotus need to apologize for their “apology”? Me thinks so.
The incident does reinforce the need for organizations to ensure they have social media policies and ongoing training in place. Management across the organization clearly needs to be appropriately involved in the social media program before a “social media crisis” occurs, not just after the fact.
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