No one is perfect and you can’t expect to please everyone all the time, so the best trick is to be prepared for how to handle things if your company finds itself under attack in the social realm.
That’s the core of Mashable’s advice in a piece running today, How to respond when social media attacks your brand. The story looks at three recent examples of social media crises in which companies had to respond to online criticism. What’s interesting about these three stories (though not discussed in the Mashable piece) is that all three revolve around weight issues:
- Ann Taylor, challenged to show that a new style of pants could look good on “real” women and not just models
- Southwest Airlines, challenged to appease filmmaker Kevin Smith after booting him off an airplane for being oversized
- Pretzel Crisps, pilloried for running ads with the tagline “You can never be too thin”
While there’s no shortage of social media disasters in which weight played no role, it’s worth noting that weight may be a particularly challenging issue online. Perhaps it’s simply a reflection of the shifting politics of weight overall: as Americans grow steadily larger, weight has become both a major public health challenge and the basis of a new consumer and citizen constituency.
Take that issue online and it has the power to become even more inflammatory, because the core dividing line — size — becomes completely invisible. It’s easy to say something insensitive when you are speaking to an audience you can’t see: getting your hands on a stock photo that represents the variety of body types among your likely audience is one way to intuitively recalibrate. It may also be easier for people who feel marginalized by their size to speak up online, since you can complain about that size 4 model without anyone knowing whether you are yourself a size 2 or a size 20.
But I wonder if the most significant factor may be in how we expect to be treated in online conversation. For all that we talk about the rough-and-tumble of the Internet, there’s still a sense in which the online experience is very intimate. There you are, alone, in the privacy of your own home: who is Ann Taylor, Southwest or Pretzel Crisps to make fun of your size?