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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