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Social Media Misstep: Gap and Hurricane Sandy

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February 5, 2015 by EmilyCRios

Social Media is a key element for brands when it comes to reaching out to their audience and because can be a large platform for brands to interact instantaneously based on whatever is going on in the world it makes sense that brands may experience some lapses in judgement or social media missteps.

Gap experienced a misstep via social media during Hurricane Sandy. Gap posted a check in via Foursquare to their Twitter profile from New York. People took noticed and Gap then deleted the comment and posted an apology saying the tweet was only meant to remind people to stay indoors.
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The tweet showed that the Gap social media team is paying attention to what is going on around them. They obviously had no way of knowing just how serious the storm would end up being when they posted and you can assume they were just trying to ties their brand in to what was going on locally at one of their store locations. The biggest issue with the initial tweet is that instead of simply telling people to stay safe it suggests that they should keep busy by shopping at gap.com.

When dealing with social media posts that have gone wrong a brand is to act quickly and own up to the mistake and take action to rectify it and acknowledge to the audience that you are aware of the type of mistake you made and that you are genuinely apologetic.

Prior to this incident Gap Inc. had been applauded for their social media guidelines which were being recommended as a guide for other companies. The policy includes the following warning: “These guidelines are important—because if you don’t follow them a few things could happen: your posts can get deleted, we could lose customers and investors, we could get in trouble, or, worst of all, you could even lose your job … So do the right thing, stick to the guidelines.”

Their policy includes the following highlights:

  • There’s really no such thing as “delete” on the Internet, so please—think before you post.
  • Add value. Make sure your posts really add to the conversation. If it promotes Gap Inc.’s goals and values, supports our customers, improves or helps us sell products, or helps us do our jobs better, then you are adding value.

The Hurricane Sandy tweet clearly did not follow the policies put in place by Gap Inc. and yes they did the right thing by deleting, but like it is mentioned in their own policy there is never truly deleting content from the internet especially after it has already been seen by other people. They were right in issuing another tweet saying what their intentions, but personally I found it to be empty and lacking any real concern. I did not like that they were still using #Sandy because that was a hashtag that genuinely concerned people were using to find out what was going on. I think Gap would have found a more response if their version of an apology if it actually seemed like they were concerned and if they directed people to where they could get updated information on the hurricane such as the National Hurricane Center or the American Red Cross.

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4 thoughts on “Social Media Misstep: Gap and Hurricane Sandy

  1. I think as customers, we expect companies to be socially responsible, particularly when people are going through rough times. Real-time marketing is very effective, but timing and sensibility are required. I think Gap acted irresponsibly by showing that, as people were suffering and possibly losing homes, they were thinking about increasing sales. I think this is the wrong way of wanting to establish relationships. It shows that Gap is less concerned about people in New York (in this case) and more concerned about making money.

    I think this is similar to AT&T’s Twitter “Never Forget” post with a photo of a smartphone, on the 12th anniversary of 9/11. This is another example of how real-time marketing might work against companies who try too hard to join the conversation when it’s not really appropriate. The message was interpreted as a product placement and people were infuriated because of this. AT&T pulled down the tweet after an hour and posted the following statement: “We apologize to anyone who felt our post was in poor taste. The image was solely meant to pay respect to those affected by the 9/11 tragedy.” The problem with this is that people don’t forget, especially because once they erase the message it doesn’t mean that it’s erased forever. Besides, I don’t feel any honesty in that message.

    • EmilyCRios says:

      AT&T is definitely a good example of a brand trying to be relevant and use real time marketing and failing at it. I remember seeing that post and being shocked that they posted it and could not believe no one in their end thought it was a bad idea. I appreciate when brands make social commentary that shows they are human and that they understand what is going on in the world and I think they can do that without trying to tie in their products and make money.

  2. caseygrenet says:

    I think this is a perfect example of a company using a bad situation and turning it into a sales / promotional situation. It is always good for brands to be relevant, and by Gap telling fans to “Stay Safe”, this was a good way to be relevant, but they negated their positive statement by trying to get people to shop during a very scary time for many people. Many brands make the mistake of doing this. Celeste uses AT&T as another example of a brand turning a negative situation into a sales/marketing outlet . As stated above, it is good for brands to be relevant and talk about things happening in todays world, but they need to do it in a sensitive manner or just not say anything at all. My clients are a global brand and when something bad is happening in a certain part of the world, we avoid promoting that specific propertyso we don’t deal with negative comments.

    • EmilyCRios says:

      When brands have a global audience they have to be especially careful and sensitive to to what may be going on in different parts of the world. Being relevant is definitely key in a brand’s success and I think there are instances where brands should focus on being relevant, like Gap was in encouraging people to be safe, without adding in a sales pitch.

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