Supermarket giant Woolworths learnt a very important public relations lesson this week.
It’s a new entry into the PR handbook, which reads something like, ‘one shall not give undue credence to social media outrage’.
You see, Woolworths this week apologised for stocking a t-shirt that only the Greens and a minority of the Twitterverse could possibly find offensive. Actually, maybe the ABC, too.
The shirt, with an Australian flag and the words ‘If you don’t love it, leave’, was on sale at two of the supermarket’s stores in Sydney and Cairns.
A bloke by the name of George Craig, who claims he was on a footy trip with mates when he spotted the shirt, declared it racist.
(Ah yes, the highlight of every footy trip, trawling the aisles of Woolworths for good quality singlets and undies for the weekend).
George, who has a whopping 158 followers on Twitter even after his ‘viral’ Tweet of the so-called racist shirt and appears to have a rather unhealthy obsession with Seinfeld, sparked those who love to pounce on pretend outrage into action.
The ABC reported that “dozens of people” took to the Woolworths Facebook page to criticise the supermarket giant over the singlet.
Dozens? Yep, that’s correct.
But among the dozens, there’s hundreds if not thousands of other posts condemning Woolworths for removing the shirt from the shelves. In the process, they are slamming the apology Woolworths produced.
Oh yes, that apology. Wow.
“It has come to our attention that two Woolworths stores were inadvertently stocking a singlet that we consider totally unacceptable,” a spokesman said.
“The singlet was not one we ordered. It was delivered to us in error and should never [have] been allowed on our shelves.
“We will review our processes to ensure this sort of error cannot happen again.”
But Woolworths got the apology wrong.
As the mainstream media picked up the story, it was pretty obvious that most of us didn’t see what all the fuss is about.
But Woolworths had fallen for that relatively new trick – social media outrage.
You see, some PR folk think that hashtags are more important than letters to the editor, Facebook likes are more critical than evening TV news ratings and retweets are much more indicative of the thoughts of the public than talkback radio announcers or callers.
They respond to social media criticism because they feel they are being bombarded, when in reality, the numbers don’t add up to widespread criticism and certainly don’t warrant the removal of the shirt or the apology that followed.
Anyone who has ever been the victim of racism must be shaking their heads right now trying to figure out what all this uproar is about.
Many in the community have experienced terrible and unacceptable racism, racism that should be called out and stopped by all of us.
How sad it is that in 2014, we live in a country that brands a t-shirt that jokingly says ‘If you don’t love it, leave’ as racist.
How sad is it that if you put a flag pole in your front yard with the Aussie flag flying, you’ll probably be considered a racist, not a proud Australian.
What’s sadder, though, is that the communities we think are offended by all of this, very rarely say a word. Why? Because they too can’t understand what all the fuss is about.
If you really want a story about people being unfairly treated, perhaps have a look at the real story behind Woolworths’ cheap milk and bread and the people it threatens to destroy.
Now there’s an apology that no level of outrage – even on Twitter – could manage to achieve.