Summary

When Lowe’s pulled its advertising from the TLC program All-American Muslim, critics from both sides responded. Some organized a boycott of the home improvement giant, and others applauded the decision. Lowe’s posted a response and apology on Facebook to only step further into a heated controversy as thousands of comments, many vitriolic, were posted until the apology was pulled and a second apology posted four days later. It was clear from the number of comments posted to the Lowe’s apology that it is possible to engage an audience through organizational Facebook pages, but doing so warrants caution. Using Facebook to address controversy requires knowledge of the audience and a close monitoring of comments as well as awareness of when using Facebook is unwise.

Method

A total of 379 usable surveys were collected and analyzed via Qualtrics. The survey included questions about their demographics, Facebook usage, and Lowe’s shopping behavior and opinions. In addition, participants were asked to read an embedded article about the Lowe’s decision to pull its advertising from the TV show All-American Muslim, as well as the text of the Facebook apology Lowe’s posted shortly afterward on December 2011.

Key Findings

  • Survey results reveal mixed thoughts toward both Lowe’s apology and its choice of channel for that apology (Facebook).
  • Young (under 35 years old), non-Caucasian, Democrat-leaning subjects were more likely to think unfavorable of Lowe’s apology.
  • Facebook may not be the best channel for apologizing about a controversial decision

Implications for Practice

Public relations practitioners considering the use of Facebook for organizational messages should think about the audience they will reach and the level of controversy connected with the message. As seen in this situation, there is an incredible potential for interaction with thousands of stakeholders; however, in case they all post on the same day, a plan needs to be in place to handle a dramatic increase in traffic. Because of the results showing significant differences based on age, race and political leaning, communicating about a racially or politically charged issue is likely to draw fire and is not recommended, especially if it does not fit with the brand’s typical use of social media.

While there were racial, political, education-level and age-related differences, there was a lack of gender differences in this situation. More women are present on Facebook, but the female respondents in this case did not have different attitudes than the male respondents regarding the use of Facebook by Lowe’s for the apology. Because respondents with higher education levels differed in their views on the wording of the apology, if an organization has a more educated group of stakeholders, representatives will want to more thoroughly consider the wording of organizational statements to be posted on Facebook. Based on these results, adults 35 and over appear more open to organizations sharing communication on Facebook than younger adults.

Article Location

The full article is available online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811114000630

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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