Part of being on social media – especially as a brand – means coping with the knowledge that eventually you’re going to mess up. You’re going to say something that makes your company look ignorant, or angers a certain portion of your audience. Or someone nowhere near your audience because you’re on the Internet and your message goes everywhere whether you like it or not.
The important thing to remember when you inevitably give yourself a black eye is to avoid making matters worse. The sports apparel company Warrior has a lot to learn in this regard.
Unless you play lacrosse or hockey (or if you’re a Liverpool FC supporter, like me), you probably haven’t heard of Warrior; it’s a niche company that focuses largely on a niche sport: lacrosse. Unfortunately, it also has a pretty serious marketing problem – both on social media and as a company as a whole.
Last week during two international matchups between the US and Canada – a women’s softball game, the other in men’s lacrosse – Warrior tweeted “Does anyone else find it laughable that Softball is on ESPN1 & #WorldLax is on ESPN2? #TitleIXProblems.” When that sparked immediate outrage, the company tried to cover its tracks with the tweet below.
Now it’s fine to be upset that your sport isn’t getting the attention you think it deserves, especially when it’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Hell, I pitch a fit anytime a Gators football game is on the SEC Network instead of ESPN – it’s natural. But let’s go ahead and break down the surface problems with these tweets:
- If we simply assume ESPN 1 goes with the larger sport, there were 30,175 collegiate softball players and 21,748 male lacrosse players in 2013. It’s hardly laughable to an established (occasionally Olympic) sport like softball on your flagship station.
- Warrior inexplicably brings Title IX into this since neither sporting event was a collegiate event.
- Inequality is an interesting (read: boring, stupid) point of contention with a sport that has demographics like lacrosse.
Once the offending tweets were deleted, Warrior let loose with a final zinger:
— Warrior (@Warrior) July 11, 2014
#CrossTheLine is, of course, a branded hashtag for a Warrior ad campaign. I’ve talked before about the importance of authentic communication and customer service, and I think it’s time for brands to recognize that if you feel the need to shoehorn a marketing message into your apology, then it’s really not an apology. It’s just crass.
More than Skin Deep
The derision of women’s sports is nothing new, obviously, but unfortunately it seems to be a core messaging strategy for Warrior. It may seem natural for Warrior to target its messaging to men. High-level hockey and lacrosse are both boys’ club sports in the locker room, but that doesn’t mean that your marketing should marginalize outside groups for the sake of giving your niche audience a laugh.
The tone-deaf social messaging extends beyond Twitter to its website, since here is what you get if you search “women’s” on the site.
If you don’t make women’s products, that’s fine (Warrior was edged out of the women’s market by competitors, and it’s not hard to imagine why). But, Warrior absolutely knows that nearly 40% of lacrosse players are women. Women who don’t know Warrior was edged from the market and might assume that a large apparel company would consider making something for them, or at the very least that the company wouldn’t assume a woman would simply be buying for her boyfriend.
Sexist tone aside, this sort of messaging is even more egregious when you search for “baseball” and get a generic response with no results. That means a developer went out of his (we’re going to assume it was a dude) way simply to deliver a demeaning, sexist message. For absolutely no reason and with no benefit other than to maybe make a dudebro laugh.
As a prominent supplier to one of the fastest-growing sports, a company like Warrior can’t afford this sort of messaging blindness. And when it gets called out on its crap, it definitely shouldn’t double down on this sort of idiocy.
Of course, Warrior is not alone in this sort of behavior – it’s just particularly noxious given the machismo the brand exudes and the callous disregard for the reality of the situation. Plenty of companies stumble with their social messaging, and just like Warrior they try to excuse their behavior rather than simply and humbly apologizing.
Luckily, this sort of mixed-up messaging isn’t inevitable. If you’re looking to avoid getting caught up in a social fracas, here are a few simple starting points.
- If you want to be trusted, be honest. While this applies directly to apologies, it also applies to your marketing. Don’t skew the facts, don’t bend things to your side. Just be honest.
- Unless you’re a political organization or a political issue directly impacts your business, don’t drag it into your messaging, especially as faux outrage.
- Don’t forget that your followers are not the entirety of your audience. Digital messages are not only timeless: they are boundless. Even if you think your die-hard fans will enjoy or agree with a particular message, they are an incredibly small portion of the digital audience. As a social marketer, you need to be aware that your messages don’t stop at your last follower – especially the negative ones.
- Have a real understanding of how you’re viewed. In Warrior’s case, focused as they are on male-centric sports, there’s simply no need to drag gender or equality into the mix.
- The rules for a brand apology are the same as a personal one: you have to mean it, and you can’t hedge it. Don’t say sorry if someone was offended (not an apology) and definitely don’t plug marketing copy into it. Just apologize, and mean it.
Those are pretty minimal guidelines, but they’ll at least help keep you honest. Comment and let us know any tough social media lessons you’ve learned.