Once again, a major brand has learned a very hard lesson in social media marketing. The only good thing about the Lowe’s Home Improvement/”All-American Muslim” controversy is that it serves as an extraordinarily teachable moment for other companies wondering how they should – and shouldn’t – manage their social media communities.
Long story short: A Florida group objected to The Learning Channel’s reality show about five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Mich. It seems their quarrel with the show is that it doesn’t portray all Muslims as terrorists. This group sent letters to some of the show’s sponsors asking them to stop their advertising, and Lowe’s actually agreed. Cue the backlash, mainstream media frenzy and “Daily Show” ridicule.
On its Facebook page, Lowe’s explained its thinking in a statement that started out sounding like a reversal of its decision, but didn’t end up that way: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”
But the group discussion and consideration that immediately followed that statement in the Comments section of Lowe’s Facebook page included some of the most vile anti-Muslim racism you’ve ever seen on a major brand’s social media profile. The fact that Lowe’s was allowing those comments to appear unedited earned the home improvement chain a second round of bad publicity, leading to a Wednesday update on the company’s FB page:
“Some of the comments have been sharp and disrespectful in tone, but out of respect for the transparency of social media, we let the debate continue. However, we have seen a large volume of comments become more pointed and hateful. As a result, we have taken the step of removing all previous posts and will more tightly filter future comments on this topic. You will be able to respond to this post, but in the spirit of social media, please keep your comments on this Facebook page respectful.”
It should be painfully clear by now that Lowe’s had a simplistic take about what constitutes “the spirit of social media.” Transparency about how decisions are made within a corporation is one thing; not giving your social media community basic guidelines about decency, civil discourse and respect for others’ opinions is something else.
Here’s where the real damage has been done to Lowe’s in this entire episode: do a Google search for “Lowe’s home improvement.” Yes, you’ll find the corporate home website and their Wikipedia entry still at the top of the search results page, but just under that are links to stories and blog posts about this controversy.
There’s no rule within social media marketing that says the opportunity to give customers a voice should trump human dignity. If you wouldn’t want someone coming into your store shouting racial epithets at the top of their lungs, why would you tolerate that on Facebook? Businesses should always use common sense in moderating the conversations that end up on their social media platforms. Lowe’s Home Improvement didn’t do that, and the result is a much shakier foundation for their brand.
Keeping in mind all that decency and respect stuff I just mentioned, feel free to let us know what you think about the Lowe’s episode in our Comments section. And also consider these stories from the week in social media marketing:
Your Company’s Event Becomes More Eventful, Thanks To LinkedIn
Wired Advisor CEO/founder Stephanie Sammons dissects the new LinkedIn Event tool and passes along some great tips for businesses in this Social Media Examiner post.
If You Build It (An Online Community), They Will Come (To Buy Your Products)
One of the best examinations we’ve seen yet of how content marketing can help turn social media surfers into paying customers is in this Mashable blog post from Todd Wasserman.
Don’t Be Content With Lousy Content
Quality marketing content answers questions, isn’t commercial, attract potential customers, gets businesses good search rankings and generally makes the world a better place. The consequences of lousy content? Those can be found in Corey Eridon’s witty post on the HubSpot blog.
That’s our story for this week, and we’re sticking to it. Try not to spend too much time in the malls this weekend, and we’ll see you back here on Monday.