JC Penney was under some social heat after some Reddit users (yup, here’s Reddit again – told you it was one to keep an eye out for!) remarked that the company’s new teapot bares a slight resemblance to Adolf Hitler.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) May 28, 2013
Yes, this is obviously an innocent mistake and a matter of personal perception – and is most certainly not a crisis. However, as we’ve seen time and time again, when not responded to appropriately, social media issues can escalate into social media crises.
How did JC Penney respond to the Hitler accusations?
JC Penney was wise to not take the situation too seriously, though they knew that it still needed to be responded to. Their strategy was to develop a response tweet and use it to respond to everyone mentioning the teapot in relation to Adolf Hitler.
Although I don’t recommend using the same messaging over and over and over again – I’m always for personalized tweets and responses on social – in this case, this strategy was sufficient.
However, it’s not the only strategy that would have worked.
What could JC Penney have done instead?
The twitter response shown above has good intentions. It states that the kettle’s similarities to Hitler were, of course, unintentional and then it takes an attempt at a humorous approach, adding personality with the little smiley face.
However, in my opinion, responding with the exact same tweet potentially a thousand times over is not the most practical way to end a potential viral social media issue. Instead, JC Penney could have taken to their appropriate social accounts, released one kind-hearted statement that explains that this, of course, was completely unintentional, apologized for any offence that their teapot may have caused to their fans and customers – the holocaust is not to be taken lightly – and then they could have ended by turning the situation around and inviting fans to comment on what innocent and fun thing they would be amused to see in the shape of a teapot. This approach would have addressed the situation, apologized to any offended fans and turned it into a lighthearted and fun way of engaging with their fans and followers.
The repercussions of JC Penney’s social media issue
As this was a social media issue and not a crisis, we will see no long-term negative repercussions on JC Penney’s reputation or bottom line. In fact, the last I checked the teapot had sold out online. This clearly marks the difference between a social media crisis and a social media issue. However, just because a social media issue doesn’t pose any immediate threats on your brand’s reputation or bottom line, doesn’t mean that it can’t escalate into something more severe. JC Penney was right to know that this issue didn’t call for total panic or their crisis management plan, but that it did require the appropriate amount of attention.
Way to go JC Penney!
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.