Mike Cushing / Digital Marketing / July 14th, 2014

Hey Brands – Don't Double Down on Social Media Stupidity

Part of being on social media – especially as a brand – means coping with the knowledge that eventually you’re going to mess up. You’re going to say something that makes your company look ignorant, or angers a certain portion of your audience. Or someone nowhere near your audience because you’re on the Internet and your message goes everywhere whether you like it or not.

The important thing to remember when you inevitably give yourself a black eye is to avoid making matters worse. The sports apparel company Warrior has a lot to learn in this regard.

Unless you play lacrosse or hockey (or if you’re a Liverpool FC supporter, like me), you probably haven’t heard of Warrior; it’s a niche company that focuses largely on a niche sport: lacrosse. Unfortunately, it also has a pretty serious marketing problem – both on social media and as a company as a whole.

Last week during two international matchups between the US and Canada – a women’s softball game, the other in men’s lacrosse – Warrior tweeted  “Does anyone else find it laughable that Softball is on ESPN1 & #WorldLax is on ESPN2? #TitleIXProblems.” When that sparked immediate outrage, the company tried to cover its tracks with the tweet below.

Source: @LaurnSmith

Now it’s fine to be upset that your sport isn’t getting the attention you think it deserves, especially when it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Hell, I pitch a fit anytime a Gators football game is on the SEC Network instead of ESPN – it’s natural. But let’s go ahead and break down the surface problems with these tweets:

Once the offending tweets were deleted, Warrior let loose with a final zinger:

We didn’t mean to offend anyone earlier. We respect all athletes just ask @victoryearned. We just have a tendency to #CrossTheLine sometimes

— Warrior (@Warrior) July 11, 2014

#CrossTheLine is, of course, a branded hashtag for a Warrior ad campaign. I’ve talked before about the importance of authentic communication and customer service, and I think it’s time for brands to recognize that if you feel the need to shoehorn a marketing message into your apology, then it’s really not an apology. It’s just crass.

More than Skin Deep

The derision of women’s sports is nothing new, obviously, but unfortunately it seems to be a core messaging strategy for Warrior. It may seem natural for Warrior to target its messaging to men. High-level hockey and lacrosse are both boys’ club sports in the locker room, but that doesn’t mean that your marketing should marginalize outside groups for the sake of giving your niche audience a laugh.

The tone-deaf social messaging extends beyond Twitter to its website, since here is what you get if you search “women’s” on the site.

warrior
Source: @GingeFC

If you don’t make women’s products, that’s fine (Warrior was edged out of the women’s market by competitors, and it’s not hard to imagine why). But, Warrior absolutely knows that nearly 40% of lacrosse players are women. Women who don’t know Warrior was edged from the market and might assume that a large apparel company would consider making something for them, or at the very least that the company wouldn’t assume a woman would simply be buying for her boyfriend.

Sexist tone aside, this sort of messaging is even more egregious when you search for “baseball” and get a generic response with no results. That means a developer went out of his (we’re going to assume it was a dude) way simply to deliver a demeaning, sexist message. For absolutely no reason and with no benefit other than to maybe make a dudebro laugh.

baseball warrior

 

As a prominent supplier to one of the fastest-growing sports, a company like Warrior can’t afford this sort of messaging blindness. And when it gets called out on its crap, it definitely shouldn’t double down on this sort of idiocy.

 Smarter Social

Of course, Warrior is not alone in this sort of behavior – it’s just particularly noxious given the machismo the brand exudes and the callous disregard for the reality of the situation. Plenty of companies stumble with their social messaging, and just like Warrior they try to excuse their behavior rather than simply and humbly apologizing.

Luckily, this sort of mixed-up messaging isn’t inevitable. If you’re looking to avoid getting caught up in a social fracas, here are a few simple starting points.

  • If you want to be trusted, be honest. While this applies directly to apologies, it also applies to your marketing. Don’t skew the facts, don’t bend things to your side. Just be honest.
  • Unless you’re a political organization or a political issue directly impacts your business, don’t drag it into your messaging, especially as faux outrage.
  • Don’t forget that your followers are not the entirety of your audience. Digital messages are not only timeless: they are boundless. Even if you think your die-hard fans will enjoy or agree with a particular message, they are an incredibly small portion of the digital audience. As a social marketer, you need to be aware that your messages don’t stop at your last follower – especially the negative ones.
  • Have a real understanding of how you’re viewed. In Warrior’s case, focused as they are on male-centric sports, there’s simply no need to drag gender or equality into the mix.
  • The rules for a brand apology are the same as a personal one: you have to mean it, and you can’t hedge it. Don’t say sorry if someone was offended (not an apology) and definitely don’t plug marketing copy into it. Just apologize, and mean it.

Those are pretty minimal guidelines, but they’ll at least help keep you honest. Comment and let us know any tough social media lessons you’ve learned.

  • Jennifer Fix

    Nice guideline for brands to make smart social decisions. As companies try to focus on maintaining relevance and providing timely updates it’s only going to become increasingly important for quality assurance to be a standard fixture in outbound communication. Just because you have to move quickly in the digital social sector doesn’t mean you should be hasty. Diplomacy only becomes MORE important as social media grows.

    • Mike

      Definitely agreed. Having an accountable social media team to keep each other in check is hugely important. Of course, if your company has an internal culture of disrespect like some appear to, that culture is inevitably going to leak into any outbound communication.