We here at Arabian Bytes have of course been watching the situation in Egypt unfold with great interest, and have especially noted the growing power of social media to shape these events. Rest assured we’ll be posting more about Egypt, Tunisia and the importance of social media soon so stay tuned.

In the meantime, we wanted to turn our attention to a “what not to do” case study of hijacking a hashtag. Kenneth Cole recently was called out for linking the #Cairo hashtag and the unrest in Egypt with a tweet about their spring collection. Not surprisingly, this was met with a furious backlash as the twitterverse accused them of making light of a situation where people have died, been seriously injured or had their lives turned upside down.

The company even went so far as to issue an apology and to delete the offending tweet, but the damage has been done with hundreds of fans piling on criticism as a result.

Three lessons to be learned from this situation from a social media perspective.

  • Brands and politics don’t mix. As a general rule, there’s no reason to link your brand to a situation like this where people are already passionately engaged.
  • Natural disasters, tragic accidents and death in general. Other than heartfelt expressions of sympathy, there’s no reason to comment. 

  • Most importantly, think before you tweet. This applies to brands and individuals as well. With today’s “always on” culture of phones, tablets and laptops, it’s easy to send a quick tweet whenever something pops into your head. But in 140 characters and the click of a button, you can erase years of goodwill and cause yourself even more headaches. Before you click send, think “Would I be comfortable with this as a graphic on CNN?”

Hopefully their social media team has learned their lesson, but this situation provides a helpful reminder of both the power and responsibility of an engaging social media campaign.

Note: Lest you think mentioning the Kenneth Cole name achieves their goals counter-intuitively (ie any publicity is good), note that by linking their name to these stories, it will influence their natural search results. Already news from their ill-conceievd tweet is the #5 and #8 search result for their company name on Google. And no matter how you look at it, that’s not a good strategy.