Kenneth Cole’s Inappropriate Tweet

A social media lesson, courtesy Mr. Cole

Whoever sent the infamous tweet from Kenneth Cole’s Twitter account this morning unleashed a fury against the brand. For weeks we’ve been helplessly watching the horror unfold in Egypt and one tweet from a respected brand and our focus shifted. And what a shift!

Kenneth Cole tweetCole’s tweet, which was retracted within the hour and apologized for, has grown to monolithic proportions. A parody account for the Kenneth Cole brand was set up and at the time of this writing had more than 5,000 followers – and I am not linking to it because it’s even more crass and offensive.

The Twitter apology: “I have removed this morning’s tweet. Please visit this link to see my apology. -KC” The link delivered readers to his Facebook apology: “I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

The tongue lashing continued and continues still. Whether Cole can dig himself out of this or not is less important than what the rest of us can learn.

Last week in Las Vegas at the World Furniture Market, I spoke to furniture retailers about how to communicate a brand online. Yes, there are rules folks. No, your 13 year-old-daughter shouldn’t be responsible for sculpting your brand voice. While most of this should be self-evident and common sense, let’s go over the rules one more time – even if just for Ken’s sake.

Be nice

You know better than to be mean to others in real life. So why do it on social media? Don’t put down your competition on social media. If you want to get ahead, get better at what you do. Simple.


Seems pretty simple idea but you’d be amazed at how hard it is for some brands to share. If your competition follows you on Twitter, why block them? They can only succeed if they’re better at your job than you are, which means you have bigger problems.

Don’t steal

Your competition runs a sweet promotion that super-charges his community – watch, learn and think of something even better. Stealing just labels you as a copy-cat. But even worse, you’re letting him lead.

Don’t make problems worse by hiding them

Rules to tweet bySomeone writes on your Facebook wall how your product broke the day after it was purchased and the store won’t take it back. Removing that comment is almost as stupid as what Cole posted. Social media is meant to be social. If someone has a problem, thank them for giving you a chance to fix it. Then offer to call them – nothing beats a call from a real person to get to the heart of the problem.

One caveat here. Your Facebook wall is your online home and while healthy discussion is expected, it’s your home and your right to remove those who violate your rules.

Don’t call names

Calling your customers (or competition) names or telling them they’re wrong in written communication is stupid. Even if it’s a personal email, don’t do it. Ever heard of copy and paste?

In 1998 Kenneth Cole was named the People Magazine’s sexiest man of the year. He’s married to Maria Cuomo, daughter of New York’s former governor, Mario Cuomo. Seems like he was born to all the right stuff – except maybe common sense….

Ever made a big mistake on social media you wish you could undo? How did you handle it? Any words of wisdom to avoid it all together?

Got social media questions? Follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook or connect with me on LinkedIn – I’m always on.

13 Responses to “Kenneth Cole’s Inappropriate Tweet”

  1. John strauss says:

    Apparently his second tweet was “Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment -KC” So what was he intending if not to make light of a serious situation? Dishonest apologies are worse than none IMO.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks for visiting, John!

      I agree completely, of course. His apology, although quick, was shallow and didn’t go nearly far enough. Makes me wonder who he entrusted his social media to and if he’s regretting that decision today. When business owners ask me who should be running their social media campaigns, I go back to their core business philosophies – what are they trying to achieve and who can be entrusted with that ever so important task. Should it be an intern or an agency? Or should it be someone who understands the importance of all the relationships they’ve built, customer service and their future innovation?

      I hope business owners who don’t take social media seriously are sitting up and taking notice to the fallout of the Cole brand…

  2. Sarah Paxton says:

    Wow… this is the kind of stupid, sarcastic attempt at attention you’d expect from a high school sophomore, writing for their paper’s newspaper – not from an international fashion house.

    Your social media advice/brand management advice is spot on. I would simply add that humor has its place (and is an important quality of a ‘great’ business), but it should not be used at the expense of others: your competition, a country, your employees, or your customers.

    Thanks for the reminders, Julia!

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Sarah, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I thought for a second that you were calling me stupid though – whew! I’d be interested to know if this was a seasoned marketing professional or an intern that tweeted the initial tweet for him. Either way, I hope he (and others) learned from it.

      Glad you found my advice helpful!

  3. Sarah Paxton says:

    no way are *you* stupid, Julia! You are right on the money.

  4. Paul W says:

    Huh, I don’t really see how the original tweet is terribly offensive. Obnoxious, sure, to insert what amounts to an advertisement into the #Cairo tag stream. Bad judgment, okay. But the tweet wasn’t really about the protests, it was just a joke. The guy apologized, and I’m sure he’s learned his lesson, so it’s time to let it go, folks.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Paul. I agree that it’s time to let it go and move on – but it’s a good reminder for the rest of us that social media comes with responsibility. Hopefully CEO’s who think this “social media thing” is something that anyone can do for the company will rethink that stance.

  5. Julia,
    What is your opinion that this was deliberate on their part? I have been told that there were store windows with this inscription (not photo shopped but actually on the windows). I find it so very difficult to believe that they could not be aware of the fall out… and if it were deliberate,why? Any attention is good attention? Surely not.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      I want to believe the best of the Cole brand because they are known for their socially good actions – and for pushing us to look through a new lens. Personally, I would like to think this was a careless mistake that was amplified through the anger of a social media lynch mob. We all make mistakes and the apology was quick (if a little shallow) and in normal circumstances, the world would have moved on. But social media is a life all its own and careless mistakes can taken a trusted brand down with one single tweet.

      I hope CEO’s are watching and looking more closely at who they assign to their social media channels. And that they ensure a gate keeping process. Social media should be a company-wide initiative – not an activity to keep the intern busy. One thing I know for sure, this social media disaster ranks up there with Motrin Moms one of 2009…I can only imagine the restructuring taking place right now.

  6. IllyAlley says:

    Is it possible to view the offending Tweet?

  7. Julia Rosien says:

    Thanks for linking to SocialNorth – what’s happening on social media with this comment is becoming an interesting case study, don’t you think. When people are collectively incensed about something that lynch mob mentality is right there, waiting. I agree and hope it settles down soon – but there are some great teaching moments here.


  1. […] whole Kenneth Cole backlash is getting pretty ridiculous. The guy (or whoever writes his Twitter feed) wrote something crass […]

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