The bully pulpit

Posted by Jenna Gallagher on May 10, 2013 |

Online petitioning is a great way to make your voice heard. Like last year, when 300,000 people electronically signed a petition that provoked Bank of America to drop a proposed $5 monthly debit card fee. Or when a Facebook campaign got Betty White on SNL.

It can be an enormously effective tool against institutional bullying, such as the petition protesting the arrest of an autistic girl who slapped her teacher. And sometimes it can be used as a tool for bullying, such as the recent campaign against Bare Escentuals, a popular cosmetics line, whose clumsy attempt at a viral marketing flash mob at the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago backfired when a spectator took offense to the slogans they used.

The petition the woman filed on got enough attention to prompt Bare Escentuals to issue a self-flagellating Mea Culpa within hours, practically thanking the protesters for the call-out: “We’re glad we’re having this chance to learn.”

Bare Escentuals did the right thing by addressing the issue promptly, but with a little PR planning they wouldn’t have had to. The signs at the marathon, part of their larger “Go Bare” campaign, were clearly intended in the spirit of empowerment, much like the popular Dove Real Beauty Sketch video that’s been making the rounds on Facebook these past few weeks. But at some point before the marathon, someone on the Bare Escentuals payroll should have raised the red flag that street harassment is a very real problem women face and that the signs, albeit fairly innocuous, could be misconstrued. (If only a bunch of middle-aged women were holding up placards saying “You look BEAUTIFUL all sweaty” – as opposed to the frat boys Bare Escentuals hired – this whole mess could have been avoided.)

In the end, it’s just another reminder that social media adds layers more accountability to a business’s every action. Even with the best will in the world, companies make mistakes. They can rest assured someone is watching. And they can know, with equal certainty, that person will mobilize their social media resources to the fullest extent in order to right any real or perceived wrong. The good news is: everyone’s on the same
playing field.




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