Claire's Stores, a U.K./U.S. retailer with 3,000 outlets and revenue of $356 million in Q3 2011, has become embroiled in a social media scandal. An an independent U.K. designer, Tatty Devine has accused Claire's of ripping off its designs in this blog post. For more context, check out this ZDNet article, "Claire's Stores ignores Twitter criticism over copycat design claims."
When it comes U.S. intellectual property laws, designers cannot, apparently, copyright or trademark their designs. That's the crux of a current case between Christian Louboutin and Yves Saint Laurent. Current U.S. law apparently does not provide much protection against copies or knockoffs. (For that matter, U.S. law apparently does not protect the use of titles of books, movies and song.) So the issue here is not whether or not a big retailer like Claire's copied designs from an independent designer; the issue is: how did Claire's address the issue via social media. Claire's did not do a very good job. Here are some of the issues:
1. On both Facebook and Twitter, Claire's provided generic statements that probably caused more confusion because the statements did not directly address the situation. On Facebook, Claire's stated that it is a "responsible company" that aims "to provide innovative collections that bring customers all the latest fashion trends. As such, we take any allegations of wrong doing seriously." Some of the initial posts actually asked, "What happened?" A good initial statement needs to provide enough information so that it is clear that the company understands the scope of the issue, even as it sets to investigate further. On Twitter, Claire's was limited to the 140-character limit, saying merely, " Claire's responsibly provides customers with the latest trends. We take claims of wrongdoing seriously and are reviewing the matters raised." That snippet perhaps left greater questions about what "the matters raised" is all about.
2. On Facebook, the company deleted some users' feedback that was negative to Claire's, but did not otherwise engage with upset fans. The only interaction between someone at Claire's corporate seems to have been a post saying, "We do not tolerate the use of profanity on Claire's wall. Thank you." Just because you can delete posts written on your wall, doesn't mean you should.
3. There was no follow-through on Twitter or Facebook. That one comment on Twitter at Feb. 24th at 12:46pm was the only statement the company posted -- even as it posted five other tweets. Same for Facebook. In fact, the only response from Claire's corporate was the Facebook comment about deleting a post due to profanity. Instead, the only one responding from the company was a manager from one of its U.S. stores; and after what she called a "lively debate," the store manager deleted her comments, instead, saying that she's "going to let my company handle it." That's good, except for one thing: the company has not responded.
In light of the fact that Claire's has a strong Facebook and Twitter presence, with more than one million likes on Facebook 15,500 followers and 2,100 tweets, you'd think the company would better understand how to engage with customers and potential customers via social media. Right now, the company has been stonewalling rather than engaging. They have not provided its one million Facebook fans with information to support the company's statement that it is responsible and that it is vital source for the latest fashion trends. The company basically disengaged, which is the antithesis of how you're supposed to approach social media.