When I was in Australia early this month, it seemed the entire social media world was buzzing about Cotton On and the corporate communications crisis that played out on blogs and Twitter. In particular, I heard many people discussing the perceived poor response by the company.
Cotton On markets and sells clothing for young people and kids. A line of cheeky baby T-shirts with slogans like "Living Proof My Mum Is Easy" are certainly aggressive in cutting close to the edge of taste, but from what I know about Australian humor, it works for many people.
However a new baby T-shirt appeared on the market that clearly crossed the line. When the slogan "They shake me" hit stores, people were rightly outraged. Poking fun at the serious problem of violence called shaken baby syndrome is not funny.
Mia Freedman's post at Mamamia.com.au Cotton On - are you on CRACK provides the details of how her reader Elizabeth contacted the company. Mia’s post and the resulting tweets and follow-on posts such as Cotton On thinks child abuse is funny: meet Lincoln from Caroline Overington at The Punch quickly led to mainstream media coverage on newspaper sites.
Crisis Communications via Social Media
Jonathan Crossfield has written a terrific post about the communications ramifications Why Cotton On should watch Network: "I'm as mad as hell!"
As Jonathan relates in his post, Cotton On did not react at all via social media. While the company does have a Twitter feed @CottonOn, it seems to be just a bunch of ads and not a place where the company engages.
This is a mistake. When the Twitter world erupts and even creates a hashtag to aggregate the outrage, you need to respond.
These sorts of communications challenges play out quickly. There's little time to consult the lawyers and the PR agency. You need input within minutes and you need to react FAST.
And once you do react, it should be in the same media as the drama is playing out.
In this case Cotton On failed because company representatives did not send a tweet, nor did they comment on the blogs that were critical of the company’s actions. Even just one tweet acknowledging the issue and pledging to look into it is better than no reaction at all.
It's a new world for communications. When something plays out via social media in mere hours, reaction time is critical. Will you be prepared?