Why It Is Bad to Take Advantage of Global Tragedies on Social Media

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If history has taught us one thing, it’s that those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it.

If it has taught us two things, it’s that you shouldn’t take advantage of a global tragedy to promote yourself.

For those who don’t already know, a masked gunman opened fire on a midnight premier of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, killing 12 people and wounding 59 others earlier today (7/20/2012). The trending hashtag of #Aurora was quickly adopted to allow people to follow the emerging news, as well as provide support for the victims and their families.

Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney expressed shock at the news and promised to do everything they could to resolve the tragedy and bring the responsible parties to justice.

Then, a clothing chain called Celeb Boutique noticed the #Aurora hashtag and did what any rational, intelligent human would do.

They used it to promote themselves!

CelebBoutique Twitter Fail

Obviously, such a shockingly vapid faux pas was quickly removed, but not before a veritable hurricane of outrage spread the slip across the Twittersphere.

Celeb Boutique has since apologized, citing that their PR representative isn’t located in the United States and was, therefore, unaware of the situation. They’ve even attempted to rectify the situation by donating close to $500,000 in support of the victims and their families. They also issued an apology via Twitter:

But the Internet hivemind is crying “too little, too late.”

See comments on their Facebook apology:

This is not the first time we have seen this.

We’ve seen this sort of story before. In February of this year, while Egypt was in the midst of a governmental crisis, Kenneth Cole took advantage of the situation to promote his new line of clothing, resulting in a similar social media backlash.

Kenneth Cole Egypt Tweet

And again, in March, Gilbert Gottfried used the horrific devastation of Japan’s tsunami to make some off-color jokes. The public reaction was much the same. One of his tweets:

Gilbert Gottfried Tsunami Tweets

While this certainly won’t be the last time a company or prominent individual slips up in a (very) public forum, it begs the question: why does this happen so often and so blatantly? What do you think? How can companies protect themselves from this sort of slip, and what can they do to recover? Talk to us in the comments.

Mitch Monsen

Mitch Monsen

Mitch Monsen is an entrepreneur with a passion for creating web content. He works as an SEO consultant at WhiteFireSEO, where he also blogs about SEO and social media marketing. You can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his RSS feed.
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  • http://www.kairaymedia.com Brent Csutoras

    I am most surprised by Kenneth Kole… really sad.

    There are always some bottom feeders ready to start sucking though 🙁

  • Brenan M.

    That’s like #Social Media’s trending, and me assuming that it’s all about me. Nobody would buy that ‘Unaware of the situation’ excuse. He’s/She’s a PR Representative – not a caveman. Cmon, responsible marketing, please!

    • Melissa Fach


  • Melissa Fach

    Thanks Mitch! Great points. I think this is so wrong…

    Also, Miranda Miller, @MirandaM_EComm, sent a link to another social media gone wrong post http://www.unmarketing.com/2012/01/10/worst-use-of-social-media-of-2012-boners-bbq/

  • http://www.TheSocialNetworkingNavigator.com Laurie Hurley

    No excuses. Social Media is global. Get with the program CelebBoutique. In this 24/7 world of news all over the place, check and double check before you pick up on one stupid hashta – which is why I can’t stand hashtags to begin with. Nice post.

  • http://dareanddogood.com/ Nupur

    Why does this happen so often and so blatantly? What do you think?

    – The industrialized society is motivated and driven for goal-oriented behavior. The goal being to make as much money in as little time as possible. While a big news is already on air? Why not include our agenda – the hype has already been created anyway.

    How can companies protect themselves from this sort of slip, and what can they do to recover?

    – One way could be to send out a mass email to all employees of the company sensitizing them to the situation (let’s not assume that everyone watches the news – even in this technology driven world).
    – While outsourcing work can be profitable to the company, it is not worth bad PR like the one in the article above. Selecting the right PR team – that is sentient to public sentiment and aware of cultural and national nuances is crucial.
    – If a company finds itself in a situation like this, they must let go the party responsible for such a mishap. Prevention is better than cure – the tweets need to be authorized and checked for appropriateness. The more people approving it, the better.

    It all really comes down to selecting the right people to do your PR work – whether within the US or overseas.

  • http://www.sellwithppc.com Search Analyst

    Point well expressed. But everyone seems to have a different view in this regard. Accordingly, one cannot generalize on such things.

  • Matt Styles

    I wouldn’t consider Gottfried’s comments a “slip”, he knew exactly what he was doing. Some people, and some companies, have simply established themselves in such a way that inciting controversy is actually a viable PR strategy. These companies are of the minority, though, to be sure.

  • http://www.jeremymorgan.com Jeremy Morgan

    I think it was an honest mistake on the part of Celeb Boutique. Yes, it was their mistake to not check the news or check why Aurora was trending, that’s for certain. But to imply malicious intent and compare it with these examples, I don’t agree with that.

    This was a mistake and a lack of research on their part, but I don’t believe it was intentional.

  • http://www.webdesign-twente.net Webdesign Twente

    lol i can’t imagine that a boutique used this as an advertisement… :O they are destroying there company if you ask me

  • Margery Rothenberg

    Promoting yourself, your business or your company’s or client’s business at someone else’s expense is just wrong. When people are fighting for their lives, for their freedom or are recovering from a tragedy, anyone who piggybacks on the related buzz is an opportunist. While “opportunist” has a capitalistic ring to it, let’s not forget it’s meaning: “taking selfish advantage of circumstances.”

  • http://www.seopro.co.za Brendan Irwn

    Its sad but true – any exposure is good exposure……I agree on the meaning of opportunist, again its sad but true…

  • http://googlegeekblog.wordpress.com Google Geek

    This is very bad from boutique if they have done it intentionally , taking advantage of a tragedy to promote your business is a very shameful act i think.. I appreciate that they are apologizing by donating $500,000 to the victims .. Nice post Mitchn