Social Media Boiling Over Red Lobster

Since the beginning of this blog 13+ years ago, I have hammered on one thing consistently: as professionals in public relations and communications, the collective group has to go above and beyond the conventional blogging or social media norms to act above reproach and set standards.

This call to establish better standards never really caught on, as the desire to be the first to publish was – and still is – more important than the whole truth. I argued with others in this industry that as professionals in public relations, we have an obligation to allow our fellow industry colleagues to get facts on the record before making claims or debating issues in public forums.

The fact that I wrote about this 11 years ago and things still have not changed is just sad. Back then, FedEx Furniture was all the rage and FedEx was vilified in social media dialogue. I called up, and interviewed the communications person at FedEx and got the full story from both FedEx and the furniture builder. Plus, I was the only person – blogger or reporter – who called FedEx. Everyone else, including morning television shows, just went with what was being said online.

It was not hard to do; after one quick email to FedEx, I got a response and an interview. And I think – no, I know – we have a responsibility as contributors to this industry to always strive to get the full story.

Now, there isn’t one week that goes by without a declaration of a social media fail. Whether it’s the “digerati” making statements on social or blogs, or reporters from marketing and advertising news sites, everyone is quick to proclaim that Brand X totally fucked up.

This weekend was no exception. People got their knives out for Red Lobster (full disclosure: I did email them with a question but have not heard back).

The quick story: Beyoncé dropped her new song, Formation, on Saturday with a line about going to Red Lobster (in a not family-friendly line). Red Lobster didn’t immediately respond on social, and then when they did respond 8 hours later, it still wasn’t good enough for the crowds. The company was in a no-win situation, because no matter what they did or did not do, the “wisdom” of the crowd would say they did wrong.
I mean, we must know better than Red Lobster’s own corporate marketing or social media team because we’re so much smarter sitting in our coffee shops and not actually in the trenches. And that is the issue with these posts and declarations: it is 100 percent conjecture. Armchair QB’ing is fun, it is way too easy, and it is usually wrong.

Think about your work at the start-up, consultancy, agency or wherever you are. How would you feel or react if someone came out to attack your work, usually commenting little more than “FAIL,” and then say how they could do it so much better than you? It’s easy to INTERNET RAGE, and give your two cents without full knowledge or a backstory.
And there’s the issue. Amongst all the hoopla around Red Lobster screwing up, I have yet to read anywhere a statement or comment from Red Lobster about the situation. All these people writing articles and social posts have no inside knowledge of how Red Lobster handled this internally. One post, which I will not link to for traffic, made conjectures about the agency (who may or may not have been involved) and the corporation.

The reality of it is that Red Lobster is a corporation that is owned by a private equity group. In corporations, there are processes in place for these types of things – and social media, along with the mass public that uses it, tends to lead to short-term issues and “crises”. When you work with large brands – either internally or through an agency – things take time. Issues are looked at from all sides. All the pro’s and the con’s are weighed before decisions are made – which is never fast enough for the demands of the “digerati”. When you work for large corporations or clients, things are different. When you are just a someone blogging or commenting on Twitter or Facebook, you are really just showing that you aren’t in the game.

Now, I do not want to ignore the elephant in the room that people have been dancing around. And it is a big elephant, as this is a great example of the lack of diversity in public relations, marketing and social media.

The Beyoncé song touches on many issues in the POC community, and #BlackTwitter is a huge and strong movement on Twitter (one that Twitter still does not seem to embrace, and one I said they should in AdWeek). Was the response delay a cultural issue? Maybe. Is there a need for more diversity in social media, marketing, public relations and the like? Absolutely. It’s a need that exists now, and it’s a need that existed since even before I started in the industry.

Do I think a lot of the complaints about Red Lobster on both sides were not fully addressed as it was broken down by color lines? Very much so – and it was an issue that most people seemed to dance around.

I have no answers nor solutions for that. I want to look at this whole thing from one lens: people condemning Red Lobster have no idea what goes on inside the corporate office, or in the thought processes of a corporate team. It is easy to scream FAIL, but without being in the Red Lobster offices, you have no idea what went on. All the rest is pure conjecture.

Next time you get ready to attack a corporation or brand for its processes, realize you just do not know what goes into them. If you want to attack for a lack of cultural awareness, that is a different issue that the whole industry needs to address.
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