#loweshatesmuslims, Or, How To Screw Up In Social Media

20 02 2012

Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores announced on Dec 10, 2011, that it had pulled its advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim, an 8-part documentary chronicling the lives of five Muslim families living in the Detroit area. Referring to the show as a “lightning rod,” Lowe’s had come under fire from individuals as well as the Florida Family Association for advertising during the show.

The decision resulted in a firestorm of activity. Lowe’s responded by posting a statement/apology on its Facebook page. This produced over 28,000 comments, many of which were vitriolic in either their support or criticism of Lowe’s.

Lowe’s subsequently deleted its apology as well as the comments. This produced more controversy, with Twitter users launching the #loweshatesmuslims hashtag. This resulted in thousands more comments on Twitter, but because Twitter does not regulate the use of hashtags, Lowe’s could do nothing.

Shortly thereafter, Lowe’s then posted another apology on its Facebook page, this time keeping user comments online.

Although Lowe’s was not the only company to pulls its advertising from AAC, but it bore the brunt of the media attention.

MediaBuffs launched a nationwide online survey within days of the controversy. The purpose of the study was to measure consumer attitudes toward Lowe’s, as well as their likelihood of shopping at the store in the future.

A sample of 379 participants was utilized; all 50 states and Washington, D.C. were represented, thus guaranteeing a good cross-section of American views. Participants ranged in age from 1 to 76, with an average of 35. The sample was balanced with regard to gender (48% males, 52% female), as well as political affiliation (Republican, Democrat or Independent).

The study applied the Theory of Planned Behavior, a comprehensive theory used widely in Marketing, Management, Communication and other fields. TPB is often used to predict consumer behavior based on the antecedent conditions of attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. As a result of these components, influence may then be felt on a person’s desire, behavioral intention, and ultimately, planned behavior.

The survey included scale items that measured all of the various constructs. A method called Structural Equation Modeling produced a path model that showed the relationships between all of the variables.

The results showed that, while users did not have any clear attitudinal predisposition toward avoiding or not avoiding shopping at Lowe’s, it was the perceived peer pressure of subjective norms that predicted they will avoid shopping there in the future. In other words, people were willing to alter their shopping behavior based on what they thought their friends and family members would prefer they do. In this case, they perceived these people to prefer they not shop at Lowe’s

Pulling ads from the show inadvertently created a bigger problem than the ads did in the first place. This shows the power of social media in not only disseminating information and welcoming reply, but also the effect it can have on the brand.

It remains to be seen whether consumer plans to avoid shopping at Lowe’s will continue long-term. It is possible that, over time, people will forgive or forget, but this is no certainty

Companies must be cognizant of how powerful social media can be. Decisions must be vetted fully before enacted, because it is impossible to take the microphone away from anyone on Facebook or Twitter.

MediaBuffs is a consortium comprised of research principals Dr. Kristina Drumheller (Assistant Professor of Communication), and Dr. R. Nicholas Gerlich (Professor of Marketing and Department Head). Both are on the faculty at West Texas A&M University. They conduct academic and marketing research online at mediabuffs.org, as well as in the classroom and offsite for clients. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Associates from WTAMU and other institutions join them on selected projects.

Joining Drs. Gerlich and Drumheller on this project were WTAMU colleagues Dr. Emily Kinsky (Assistant Professor of Communication), Dr. Meagan Brock (Assistant Professor of Management), and Mr. Marc Sollosy (Instructor of Management).

Dr “That’s The Down Lowe’s” Gerlich


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