How NOT to Act When You're Wrong (Or: Noose Imagery is a Bad Idea)

Twitter erupted--as it is known to do--last night when graphic design company Seasalt, posted to their social media accounts about a new product called Hanging Tree. Maybe the name does't seem offensive at first, so let me show you the accompanying share graphic: HangingTree


Seasalt Company, a company with people who should at the very least know SOMETHING about the history of lynching in America, decided that it was totally fine to call their product The Hanging Tree and, as if that wasn't bad enough, they then decided that an image of a tree with a noose tied to it would be the perfect idea for their share graphic.

During Black History Month, no less.

If you also see something very wrong with this picture, you aren't the only one. Rachel Stewart (who is a very talented jewelry maker, by the way) had some choice words for them, only for them to respond snidely and with threats of taking legal action (screenshots are courtesy of Rachel):


This from their Facebook page, but they engaged with folks who were offended similarly on Twitter, except this time they decided to make legal threats:


Then, to add insult to injury, they claimed using the noose imagery was a way to repurpose the lynching imagery and turn it into something positive. Apparently, they don't know that's not how this works:



So just to recap, Seasalt and Co. did a very offensive thing, got called out, and then became rude and flippant complete with threats of a lawsuit. First, let's be clear that this is a prime of example of how NOT to act when you're wrong. Using the image was bad enough, but then they started being very defensive and lashing out at their audience for being rightfully offended.

For those of you who are community or social media managers for brands, I really hope that you create content that is smart and that will offend the least amount of people possible. It's very easy and all it takes is a little creativity - even if you err on the side of being a bit edgy (which is what I think Seasalt tried--and failed--to do).

But if you mess up, and piss off your audience, you have to respond to it gracefully, thoughtfully, and with tact. Go beyond the standard "sorry if you were offended" non-apology and do four very important things:

1. Explain that you were wrong and then talk about why. That gives your audience a chance to see that you acknowledge that you hurt and offended people and that you understand why it was problematic.

2. Apologize. "We're sorry" works. "We're sorry you are offended" does not. Never has, never will. 

3. Tell your audience/community the steps are you going to take in order to ensure that you won't make the same mistake again. This could be anything from doing your research first before making a decision on a marketing idea, from being more thoughtful about your word choices in the future. Whatever action you take, make sure it makes sense for both your goals and objectives - but most of all, it should be something that you know your audience will want to see the next time around.

What are some other ways to make things right when you totally screw up in the online engagement department? Drop them in the comments.