Company Quickly Apologizes for Unauthorized Criticism of Republican Senator
1/4/2021 – – A year rich with lessons in crisis prevention ended with a cautionary tale, courtesy of Walmart.
On December 30, this criticism of Missouri Senator Josh Howley, who intends to challenge certification of Electoral College results on the Senate floor, appeared on the retailing giant’s official Twitter account:
“Go ahead. Get your 2 hour debate. #soreloser.”
The post, deleted within minutes, prompted this reply from Senator Hawley:
“Thanks @Walmart for your insulting condescension. Now that you’ve insulted 75 million Americans, will you at least apologize for using slave labor? . . . Or maybe you’d like to apologize for the pathetic wages you pay your workers as you drive mom and pop stores out of business.”
The contentious Twitter exchange ignited a firestorm online and calls to #BoycottWalmart.
Why — regardless of the merits of its criticism — would Walmart use its consumer-oriented Twitter platform to offer political commentary? The company quickly apologized, explaining that the snarky tweet was unauthorized:
“The tweet was mistakenly posted by a member of our social media team who intended to publish this comment to their personal account. We have removed the post and have no intention of commenting on the subject of certifying the electoral college. We apologize to Senator Hawley for this error and any confusion about our position.”
Readers of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient are familiar with my warnings to companies stepping, consciously or unconsciously, into the minefield of politics. It’s one of the nine most common sources of corporate crises discussed in Chapter 3, “Where Crises Come From”: People, Products, Priorities, Policies, Performance, Politics, Procrastination, Privacy, Past. In today’s polarized, intolerant political environment, most political stands will warm the hearts of 50-percent of your customers, while infuriating the other half. Clearly, a mass merchant like Walmart should not be going out of its way to pick political fights and alienate consumers.
The strongest part of Walmart’s response, in my opinion, is the company’s definitive pronouncement that they have “no intention of commenting on the subject of certifying the electoral college.”
That clarity of purpose and place must be communicated to the quick-to-tweet member of Walmart’s “social media team” and his or her colleagues. Effective deployment of social media platforms is critical to success. But too often the content delivered on a company’s digital communications channels — perceived to be so new and different — is out of sync with overall corporate goals and culture. True, these platforms have their own character, style and language. But messaging on all channels must be brought into alignment with the company’s policies and priorities.
Hopefully, the person who posted the unfortunate tweet has learned a valuable lesson and is still employed by Walmart. To make sure we don’t add to our nation’s unemployment numbers, start the new year by pulling your social media team together to go to school on Walmart’s helpful case study.
And to demonstrate that I practice what I preach, I have no intention of commenting on the subject of certifying the Electoral College.