Since social media operates both nationally and internationally, companies recognize its importance as a marketing and branding vehicle for their products and services. However, when reaching out to all of the world, it’s always important to double-check your message to make sure it won't offend anyone since it's going out to diverse populations. Despite good intentions, when workplaces lack diversity major missteps happen because homogenous groups fail to acknowledge how messages will be received by diverse populations.
Here are five instances in which companies met with a huge #DiversityFail in their social media outreach:
1. After a World Cup game between the U.S. and Ghana (in 2014), Delta Airlines decided it would be fun to use a little symbolism. So they tweeted out images supposedly celebrating the teams. For the U.S., they showed a picture of the Statue of Liberty, and for Ghana, pictures of giraffes. It was a great idea...except for the fact that Ghana doesn’t have giraffes. Most Americans (unfortunately) wouldn’t know this, but to many this mistake suggested an uncomfortable truth: Most Americans tend to think the entire continent of Africa looks about the same, and so must the people and wildlife. Perhaps it goes without saying, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The Atlantic had some interesting observations about the whole fiasco.
2. The Home Depot tried to be funny and posted an image on various social media channels showing a man in a gorilla costume drumming on buckets, flanked on either side by other men also drumming on buckets to promote a rally for their college gameday campaign. The problem? The two men on either side of the gorilla-outfitted person were black. Companies need to pay careful attention to how they portray minorities. With this case in particular, the egregious blunder made was recalling an incredibly unfortunate and racist portrayal of black people that’s been around since slavery. What made it worse? Instead of accepting that they screwed up, The Home Depot blamed its advertising agency—thereby passing the “Hey-I’m-not-racist-but-these-guys-are” buck and earning even more criticism.
3. Bic South Africa tweeted a picture targeted at women supposedly to empower them on South Africa’s Women’s Day holiday. The campaign stated, “Look like a girl/Act like a lady/Think like a man/Work like a boss.” Obviously, not too many people—women especially—took kindly to being told to “think like a man.” This was in 2015, and to add insult to injury, just a few years prior Bic tried to introduce ball-point pens “for women” that they advertised as fitting better in women’s hands and—for a bit of gendered flare—had a pink casing. Needless to say, Bic earned a reputation for gender deafness.
4. Forever 21, a fast-growing retail juggernaut, relies extensively on social media to advertise its products. In 2013, the company decided to sell a selection of t-shirts depicting the controversial rap group N.W.A. Since Forever 21’s core demographic is early teen, middle class, and white, the company used young blonde models trying their best to look street-smart while wearing the t-shirts. The reaction to a suburban mall-store’s misappropriation of what many considered the voice of America’s black social underclass born out of urban neglect was not kind, to say the least. Following accusations of cultural appropriation, Forever 21 pulled not just the ads but the t-shirts themselves as well.
5. Microsoft, proud of its work in creating artificial intelligence software, decided that they wanted to show off. Glorified chatbot “Tay” was released on Twitter with the expectation that it would learn from other tweeters and expand its own knowledge and tweet out to others about the things it had learned. You can see where this is going, right? It was just a matter of hours before thousands of internet trolls “taught” Tay to be a raging sexist, racist, anti-Semite who began broadcasting the most offensive tweets into its global network. Tay was shut down within 24 hours.