How KitchenAid Spun A Twitter Crisis Into A PR Coup

KitchenAid's apology for an offensive tweet about President Obama's deceased grandmother amounts to a case study in digital damage control.

Everyone makes mistakes. It's whether you learn from them that separates the brands that retain your loyalty from the ones you now drive by.

In this context, consider last night's tweet from KitchenAid during the presidential debate:

"Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president'. #nbcpolitics"

Sent from your personal account, where your like-minded friends make up the primary audience, the offending tweet may have slipped by relatively unnoticed. However, sent from a corporate channel, the tweet is no longer associated with a person but with a brand and its products.

Confronted with this crisis, the kitchen appliance-maker sprung into action, combining several smart ingredients into a response that was swift, serious, and sustained. As a result, the damage to its brand will be minimal. Indeed, the company's apology amounts to a case study in digital damage control.

Roll the Tape

Let's review the timeline. During the debate, 19 abbreviated and incendiary words flew forth from @KitchenAidUSA to 24,000 followers.

First, KitchenAid deleted the tweet—there's no sense in leaving your garbage out in front of your restaurant. Check.

Second, the company issued its "deepest apologies" for a tweet it termed "irresponsible." It put out this apology, wisely, on the same medium—Twitter—where the transgression took place, and did so immediately and with a hashtag. Check, check, check.

Third, when Mashable reported on the incident, KitchenAid delivered a statement that the website appended to its story. Importantly, the statement didn't come from a PR person but from Cynthia Soledad, the marketer in charge of KitchenAid's Twitter channel.

Soledad reiterated the company's contrition, and made it specific (we are "deeply sorry to President, his family, and the Twitter community"). She condemned the tweet as "tasteless," and again took full responsibility ("I take responsibility for the whole team"). And she implemented corrective action, promising that the jokester "won't be tweeting for us anymore."

Finally, when the follow-up tweets came pouring in, KitchenAid didn't collapse into a crouch, but offered to talk on the record. Case closed.

A word to the wise

It's obvious that this was a mistake, a personal opinion accidentally broadcast on a company account. Indeed, Twitter has made these blunders an occupational hazard. Fortunately, many customers can imagine themselves committing the same screwup, and so are more forgiving than offended.

On the other hand, given Twitter's popularity and ease of use, this won't be the last time a brand has to eat bird. So what can your company do to avoid such a snafu?

One solution: Implement a review process for tweets. Yes, in a news cycle dominated by 140 characters and driven by Politico-type mini-scoops, seconds matter. But do they matter more than your job?

Alternatively, consider removing your personal account from your work computer. This goes double when live tweeting, as was the case last night, when it's so easy to get caught up in the moment and lose focus.

At the least, use one web browser or app for business and another for pleasure. Forewarned is forearmed.

Or, to employ another aphorism, to err is human. But to course-correct—to blend a crisis into a coup—is to be a PR pro of the highest order.

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter and circle him on Google+, where he comments daily on reputation management.

[Image: Flickr user are you gonna eat that]

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39 Comments

  • bluedog

    The bigger question, why did this person think it was appropriate to post in the first place as a rep for a big company? If they dislike the president use your own personal outlet. 

  • Michael

    I think that people do these things on purpose so they can get exposure.  It's not professional but it gets the job done.

  • KnitWitty66

    Johnsonville had a similar weird personal post show up on their FB page a couple of years ago. Someone just wasn't paying attention and posted it to the Jville page instead of their personal page. It's a shame that simple human error and lack of attention to detail is the end of the world for some people.

  • Bsullivan

    Why isn't there some kind of software brands can employ to monitor their platforms to prevent this sort of thing from happening....from a liability prospective, this could be devastating to a brand given certain situations.

  • Hunter Boyle

    Great piece and ideas for prevention, Jonathan. I can see where the disgust is coming from -- it was a horribly stupid and tasteless sentiment. That said, after the company handled it the way they did, which was about as good as can be expected, the inability to cut them some slack is hard for me to understand.

    Here's a thought: What if a KA employee critically injured or killed someone while, say, driving drunk in a company-owned delivery truck and uniform, on company time, and KA fired the employee, but the incident wasn't splashed across social media. Would these same people never forgive the company? Even if KA did everything it could to rectify the situation?

    That an offensive remark online would likely generate more widespread vitriol than a serious "offline" offense is baffling. I'm with Empathy on this one. Address it with the individual who was responsible, and give the company some credit for sincere efforts to make amends.

  • Bigot Aid

    They need to fire the employees that caused the tweet.  Otherwise they are condoning the actions

  • Steve Campbell

    Then you best not buy anything from any company.  There are bigots everywhere and probably present in every large company...How do you know they employee a "bunch" of bigots?  What's a bunch?  One, 10, 20, 100?  

  • Richard

    Do you honestly think it's "cased closed"? Have you looked at all the FB and twitter comments they were still getting overnight?

  • Madkore

    Is Kitchenaid paying you to write this?  Because if you check the Kitchenaid Facebook page, the negative comments outnumber the positive comments by at least ten to one, with hundreds of people saying they will never buy Kitchenaid products again? 

    I would like to know what your definition is of a 'PR Coup'?

  • Jonathan Rick

    Hi Madkore -

    Thanks for your feedback.

    1. I have no connection whatsoever to KitchenAid.

    2. Regarding Facebook, I'd suggest that in any controversy, people are more likely to leave a negative comment than a positive one.

    3. By "PR coup," I mean that the company handled the incident expertly.

  • O'Bear

    No mistake.  Most companies have guidelines for social media sites.  This person should be like any other joe-shmoe... hope they lost their job.  This has nothing to do with politics. This is insensitive.  Anyone who thinks different is just as shallow as the person that tweeted it. 

  • Empathy

    It will be a shame if they lose their job for accidentally sending a tweet via the wrong twitter account. It was an error. I bet you've made lots of errors in your life which people have allowed you to recover from.

  • hellolovely

    Yes, but when you take a job that involves social media, you know that a screw-up there is a much more public mistake than any almost any other kind of mistake. Everyone who has worked in social media fears this kind of thing. Frankly, Kitchenaid and most other companies probably need to schedule all tweets to make sure no one does this sort of thing in a spontaneous moment.

  • Kevin O'Doherty

    I agree with Sandra, it wasn't a PR coup. In my opinion, the Kitchenaid tweet showed poor judgement - regardless of the account used.
    The real question: Why Was KitchenAid Tweeting the Debate in the 1st place?

  • Sensible

    They weren't. The author of the tweet sent it using the wrong account. This is sadly very easy to do with the majority of twitter applications.

  • Sandy

    I have been looking at a new Kitchen Aid coffee maker, but will pass now! The only way consumers can voice our disgust is with our purchasing decisions.

  • Sensible

    Well done for the lack of empathy. Please inform us all of your full name and occupation so we can also voice our disgust at any simple errors you have made during your lifetime.

  • Andrew Gold

    @empathy, why don't you do the same? Because you don't WANT people to invade your personal life based on a comment you make. Similarly, KA has not released the personal details of the individual who wrote and sent the Tweet. The issue is how a company deals with a destructive and unauthorized action by an employee. Even giving the tweeter the benefit of the doubt that it was accidental, sending the tweet over a company account that she was trusted with access to demonstrates a serious lack of responsibility and poor judgment. This is business, not grade school. Given the person's function as a social media staffer, if I were Cynthia Soledad I would definitely terminate that person. Failure to do so would demonstrate extremely poor judgment on Ms. Soledad's part. Think how her management would look upon some future mistake coming from her department -- tweet related or not, and by the same employee or not -- if she does not take such decisive action. And, speaking from experience, getting fired is never pleasant but it can be an enormous learning experience and open up new doors. Frankly, the offending Tweeter could use a life lesson about now.

  • Josh Horoshok

    What about the fact that companies are too quick to hire junior employees to manage their social media day-to-day stuff. I'm not saying that this person was junior but perhaps companies should look at who is handling their twitter and facebook conversations and make sure they are people who are worth it. The impact of a mistake like this is too great.