Here at the sumptuous offices of the Social Media Insider, there’s nothing we love more than a corporate PR controversy and a chance to be a Monday Morning (or, in this case, Wednesday afternoon) quarterback.
So, in that spirit, let’s talk about Lowe’s!
For the uninitiated, here’s the recap: a conservative Florida group, the Florida Family Association, got itself all up in arms this week over the advertisers in “All-American Muslim,” a show on TLC that shows the day-to-day life of a Muslim family in Dearborn, Mich. To the FFA, the show misrepresents American Muslims, apparently because it is 100% jihadist-free. So, Lowe’s, among the show’s advertisers, pulled its advertising, hoping, it appears, to avoid controversy.
It turns out that pulling an ad from an inoffensive show -- and, trust me, having watched an episode, it is truly inoffensive -- is a great way to court controversy. And, of course, this being 2011, controversy went a-courtin’ on Facebook. Lowe’s posted a comment on its Facebook wall explaining its decision yesterday, saying that it pulled its ads because the show had become “a lightning rod.” The post then became a lightning rod of its own, and a much bigger one than the FFA could ever hope to harness. Its original post garnered upwards of 20,000 comments, while, per AdFreak, Lowe’s sat back and did nothing while the hate-filled language piled up on the page. (Transparency alert: I co-founded AdFreak.)
So what was Lowe’s social media error? Treating Facebook like a broadcast channel, no matter how hard it has tried to explain its way out of its conduct afterwards. The company was smart enough to use Facebook to explain its decision (even if the decision, itself, was dumb), but not smart enough to have a strategy for what would happen when people actually started to comment. So what else has Lowe’s done in the aftermath? It pulled the original post, sort of like pulling an ad schedule from a TV show.
Yes, Lowe’s is attempting what is essentially a social media mulligan, even though the trajectory of the initial wall posting has been rampantly posted in bits and pieces all over the Internet for all to see. Social media mulligans don’t really exist.
In a new post explaining what happened with the old post, the company explains that “out of respect for the transparency of social media,” it had let the comments to the old post continue, even as the language became more hateful.
But that logic seems specious. It seems really unlikely that Lowe’s could watch some of these comments flow by, as they were happening, and not interject. The media did interject. Google the phrase “Lowe’s Facebook Muslim” and you’ll discover more than 1,700 news stories. It seems far more likely that it realized how awful some of the comments were only once the media got hold of the story.
So how could this have been played differently? For one, of course, Lowe’s could have stood by the show. In retrospect, it seems silly to cave into a small group’s demands, particularly when the content of the show itself doesn’t merit rethinking the ad plan. That’s particularly true in a media environment increasingly fueled by social media.
Second, it could remember that, while social media is a great place to issue corporate statements verbatim, without the filter of the media, what happens afterward needs to be closely watched, and acted upon. It’s a conversation, people.