3 Things Social Media Marketers Can Learn from the Paula Deen Controversy

Paula Deen  No matter your feelings about the Paula Deen controversy, there are lots of valuable lessons for social media marketers to learn.

1. It takes years to build a brand, but it can swiftly be brought to its knees on social media in 140 characters. That’s the social media world we live in. All it takes are some tweets and trending topics on Twitter. Social media is quick; it adores you one day and hates you the next. In Deen’s case, the decline was swift: the story broke mid-week. Twitter erupted. By week’s end, it was a trending topic — and not in a good way.

There were clearly two camps: Those who didn’t support Paula vs. Those who did. Deen, 67, was sued by former employee Lisa Jackson for using racial slurs. In a court deposition taken under oath, Deen admitted to using the N-Word and referring to a “plantation” style wedding, among other things that are considered culturally offensive.

#PaulasBestDishes was a trending topic filled with satirical tweets. And then, Dean suddenly backed out of an exclusive interview with The Today’ Show’s Matt Lauer on Friday. Her only response was releasing a series of poorly edited videos that appeared hastily thrown together.

Dean’s negative public perception when this story first broke was effectively sealed on social media. On Tuesday, Deen made a tearful apology to the Today Show’s Matt Lauer.

2. Problems happen when your  public perception is at odds with your public image. This is a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: Who you are in your personal life and who you are in your social media life must mesh. There can’t be any glaring distinctions, especially on social media. Because social media will call you out on it every single time.

Ultimately, this is what sank Deen. Her food empire on the Food Network — with lucrative deals with retailers such as QVC, Wal-Mart and Caesars Entertainment — were built on her warm, affable personality. With a y’all and a pat sof butter, Deen was the southern grandmother that everyone loved.

But with allegations of her using the N-word, that public perception was essentially destroyed, almost overnight. Her public image as a warm TV personality with a plate of gooey butter cake and biscuits for guests to enjoy just didn’t match up with the court deposition of her using the N-word. Ultimately, her suppliers are also getting pulled into the fray — and no retailer wants that kind of controversy.

Retailers who have dumped Deen are now facing a backlash, with some vowing to not purchase their goods because they did not support Dean.

3. Video isn’t a cure for everything. Videos are great when you are trying to describe complex subjects or engage an audience. But an apology? Not so much. It also didn’t help that Deen was eerily silent when this story broke.

Not a peep from her, even on social media.

Her only response was releasing a series of poorly edited videos that appeared hastily thrown together.

Videos, really?

Came across as disingenuous– and may have been what led the Food Network to ultimately decide to drop her just a few hours after those videos were released. A real, in-person apology would have been such better, not what appeared to be a contrived, poorly edited video.

Later, Deen lost lucrative deals with Wal-Mart and Caesar’s Entertainment, which houses four of Deen’s restaurants; Sears and QVC are reportedly reevaluating their relationship. On Thursday, The Home Depot and drug maker Novo Nordisk also announced they are ending their relationship with Deen.

One thing’s for sure: The handling of this controversy will be quite the social media case study.

Tenisha Mercer is an SEO writer in Atlanta with content on page #1 of Google, Yahoo and Bing. She is a digital marketing expert, an Atlanta web content writer and SEO copywriter and social media expert in Atlanta who specializes in powerful, high-impact copywriting that clicks with customers.

Tenisha Mercer has led digital marketing, content strategy and produced and managed content for clients in health care, retail and technology, including the CDC, The Home Depot, Sears, GMAC, NCR, General Motors, 1-800-Flowers and small businesses around the country.

Contact her at info@MercerMediaGroup.com.

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