Can One Wrong Post Smear a Brand?

Social media can make or break the success of a brand. But can one post ruin a long history of great social media strategy?

Tarte Cosmetics is a brand that includes makeup and skincare products. The brand is known for its natural products that are vegan friendly and cruelty free. The brand’s social media following is large. Tarte Cosmetics reports 1.1 million likes on Facebook, 615,000 followers on Twitter and 7 million followers on Instagram.

Tarte Cosmetics has positioned itself as a brand that knows how to run social media accounts effectively in order to engage with its customers. For example, the brand has created a lexicon of hashtags that it uses for specific posts. The brand refers to its customers as #Tartelettes, vacation-time is #trippinwithtarte and new launches are #workoftarte. Women’s Wear Daily included Tarte Cosmetics on its list of most innovative digital and social media beauty brands of 2016, stating that Tarte’s earned media value was at $44 million in August due to collaborations with key influencers and the hashtags they use.

In late September, the brand experienced backlash for an insensitive post and the company’s response to it. It all started with the brand posting this meme on its Instagram:

The post received significant criticism in its comments on Instagram and on Twitter because of the racist term “ching chong.” Many people were upset with the brand for using a term regarded as negative toward Asians.

People took to Twitter to express their disappointment in the brand, including Allure magazine’s editor-in-chief Michelle Lee who posted a thread of tweets in response to Tarte  Cosmetic’s post:

Customers also took to Twitter to express their disappointment:

When Tarte realized its misstep, the brand posted this apology on Instagram:

We deeply apologize to anyone we offended today, it was a complete oversight & we absolutely didn’t mean to post with that intention. We removed immediately & spoke with the intern explaining why it was offensive”

People on Twitter and in the comments of this Instagram post thought that Tarte wasn’t taking the blame for their post but instead blaming an intern for it. The brand deleted this post when it responded in a follow-up apology from the CEO but since it’s the Internet, there are screenshots that customers will be able to find whenever they want. The company posted a second, longer apology from the CEO where she apologized for the post.

I don’t think the brand handled this situation in the most effective way but rather prolonged the negative reactions. Of course, the meme should have never been published but posting an apology that cast blame on an intern should never have occurred. The CEO and direct supervisors of the interns are ultimately responsible for what goes out on social media. I wonder if a company with such a strong reputation as expert social media strategists will lose many of its followers due to a situation like this.

Do you think the brand will recover?

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