Following the death of Carrie Fisher, Cinnabon (a food staple for weary mall shoppers and a much needed sugar boost for long drives along the I-95 corridor), released a quick tribute to her on their Twitter account (see below).
The picture was clever – having been done several months before during the May 4th “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars tribute day. And the tweet had a genuine sentimentality to it.
But it also sparked rapid and massive outrage in social media, and in corresponding mass media stories.
People responded by saying the company was trying to capitalize off the death of an Hollywood icon. One person wrote, “Since we’re living in an Idiocracy, corporations use dead celebrity “tributes” as advertisements. Shame on you Cinnabon.” Another considered the tweet to be worthy of an award for the “Most Tasteless Brand Reaction To A Celebrity Death.”
Media reporting on the tweet injected commentary about it as well. CNN Money said that Cinnabon had conceded it “was a tasteless tweet about the death of Carrie Fisher,” even though the company made no such statement.
Cinnabon was not alone is running afoul of people on social media for their Carrie Fisher tribute. The comedic icon, Steve Martin, who knew Carrie Fisher, tweeted, “When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well.” That tweet set people off who accused the actor of sexism. One person wrote, “I think she apprised to be something higher than just being pretty. How do you want to be remembered?”
The Cinnabon and Steve Martin tweets provide some basic lessons on social media management, as well as some insight into what I would call America’s growing problem with outrage.
First, here are some “take-aways” on what Cinnabon’s and Steve Martin’s tweets (and subsequent deletes) teach us about social media management, especially in a time of crisis:
- Using something that is trending online for social media content is a very common tactic. But sensitive topics require a delicate touch and careful thought. Case in point, in managing a social media team for a large, online education provider, I had to overrule the younger team members who wanted to post support for the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage. That was a case where personal sentiment must take a back-seat to corporate mission (education), audience (conservative), and goals (promote educational content – not take positions on social issues). When faced with the death of a pop icon or celebrity that is widely adored, you need to follow a similar approach.
- Larger brands have a diverse audience. Therefore, when dealing with a sensitive topic, you need to get more opinions than just your marketing or social media team. We ALL think our ideas are awesome. In the case of Cinnabon, they had actually used the same picture for an earlier tweet that was very successful. But when the context changes – you need to ask, “Is this a good idea? Is it funny? Or could it be perceived differently?” By going to others outside your social circle, you reduce the risk of massive blow-back. What does the accounting team think, for example? You may even want to keep a small band of people you can bounce ideas off who are outside your corporate culture and can challenge internal perspectives.
- When you receive opposition to a social media posting, or lots of negative commentary, you need to be prepared to delete your post and apologize. Steve Martin only deleted his post – he made no other comment, and did not repost a tribute. But Cinnabon deleted the post and tweeted an apology (see below). Apologies should always be short. And the best apologies offer no qualifications or clarification about intent – they simply say, “We are sorry for the offense we caused.” Cinnabon does provide a clarification on their intent – but doing so does nothing to appeal to their detractors – it only makes them look weaker to their customer base.
Second, here are some thoughts with the growing problem in America with outrage, especially on social media.
No one is immune from criticism. But not all criticism is worthy of a direct response.
Was the Spaghettios Pearl Harbor tribute offensive? Did Cheerios go too far with it’s tribute to Prince?
The problem is that everyone has different perceptions about what a “proper” tribute should look like. We react when we think people are acting in a way that is not genuine, and social media gives everyone the ability to inject themselves into a conversations – where they can apply their perceptions, morality, and values to the actions of others and pass judgement.
It is something that corporations need to take into account when they decide to make public comments in social media.
But Americans as a whole have become far more judgmental and opinionated than in recent years. And often times, a vocal minority can push a company to act – and not always for the best.
While we always want our clients to air on the side of caution, there is something to be said for standing by your decisions.
In the case of Cinnabon, they re-used a popular image (one that was created months prior), and paid tribute to Carrie Fisher for her character in Star Wars. Would the outrage they received been damaging to sales? Not likely.
The most damaging types of social media posts are those that are perceived to offend people based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. In Steve Martin’s case, where people were accusing the actor of sexism, removing the post was absolutely the correct decision, regardless of intent.
But when you look at large amount of sentiment supporting the company, it is clear a lot of people with strong social media clout thought the company did nothing wrong. This is a case where standing by their image and tribute could have made the company a stronger brand, and spun a negative into a positive.
As with all things – hindsight being 20/20 – there is a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking going on with Cinnabon’s tweet and subsequent decision. Overall, it is an important reminder to companies on how to avoid these kinds of challenges, and how to best to respond when mistakes get made.