FroBunni | Photo From Shea Moisture's "Hair Hate" Ad
Photo From SheaMoisture's "Hair Hate" Ad

If you don't already know by now, SheaMoisture released an ad that erased their core demographic, specifically dark skin, kinky haired women. There's going to be at least 50-11 think pieces to analyzing the ad, so I'm not going to get into that, but what got me was their engagement with consumers and customers on social media. I don't talk about my personal life on my blog, but my 9-5 is actually digital communications, specifically in social media. I regularly engage with my organization's core demographics, and can explain in great detail what they like, what they don't like, and what they want to see change. This helps my organization develop appropriate marketing campaigns so that we can reach new demographics and markets, while also keeping our core base. While we have had a few hiccups along the way, swift responses and compassion to their concerns have prevented a fall out.

This post analyzes where SheaMoisture went wrong and how they can fix this from a social media engagement perspective. Again, I will not analyze why the ad was a problem, if that's what you want, the Mane Objective's We Not Finna Do This and Damon Young, from Very Smart Brothas, The Day SheaMoisture Got Extra Ashy, Explained can help. Let's begin.

What They Did Wrong

Engaging the wrong way with customers: When the first set of reviews rolled around, I watched SheaMoisture fight tooth and nail to defend themselves against criticism. One particular comment read "we don't know why you feel this way" (unfortunately, I'm unable to find the one I saw yesterday morning; it may have been removed or just hidden below the stream of reviews and posts that have come in the last 24 hours). This ignored much of the criticism from customers and can make them feel invalidated, not to mention the fact that it was public facing, making it visible to people who were still on the fence about the situation.

Positively Engaging with the Wrong People*: While watching all of this go down on twitter, I noticed SheaMoisture engaging with a demographic that has never supported and will never support them, hoteps and white supremacists. By trying to acknowledge everyone's concerns, they began acknowledging those who only entered the discussion because it was trending, not because they were familiar with SheaMoisture. But these particular groups are dangerous and vitriolic to their core demographic, black women.

*Note: I will not promote these people and accounts. If you want to see for yourself, scroll through SheaMoisture's Twitter replies and Facebook reviews. 

Inconsistent responses: When SheaMoisture finally released their public apology, they only mentioned "WOC" (women of color), not black women. But in their responses to individual complaints, they said "black women." This is nuanced, but conveys that they have different responses for different audiences. When their responses are more visible to the public, they water it down to "women of color," but to individuals, hidden below comments and posts, they say black women. Nuanced, but still a problem.

Leaving Facebook to fester: I went back and forth between Facebook and Twitter, and while Twitter was getting much of the attention from SheaMoisture, Facebook was left to fester. Posts and reviews went unattended, as memes and rumors spread like wildfire.

What Can They Do To Fix This (Both on Social Media and Beyond)?

Stop engaging with the wrong people: This is obvious, but they need to stop engaging with people who are never and will never be part of their customer base. A quick peruse of some of these accounts' feeds could've saved them some headache. This may seem like a lot of work, but it's something I always do before I engage with anyone on social media.

(Continually saying it's a misconception was problematic; it invalidated many customers emotions and concerns. A better tweet would've read "We're sad to see you go. We would love to help clear this up, please DM us so that we can understand your concerns and better respond in the future.")

Request a conversation: Before this all blew up, SheaMoisture tried to engage with one particular user through a direct message conversation. The person was apparently not interested, but this is a better response than to try to answer everyone individually. Most people who are only commenting because this is trending, aren't going to devote the time to a conversation. On the other hand, many customers will.

Follow-up with the ones who supported you: Make a list of those on Twitter and Facebook who offered constructive and detailed criticism and follow up with them. The best way to find them? Look through the tweets, posts, and reviews made yesterday morning (before this began trending) and prior. Many of these people provided thoughtful comments and concerns without the combativeness.

Be consistent: I don't know how many employees manage SheaMoisture's social media accounts, but put them through training on how to be consistent and follow the same protocol for issues like this. Keep four to five standard responses and make sure when you go public facing, you keep the same words, phrases, and jargon (do not jump back and forth between "women of color" and "black women).

Let go of the ones who have permanently left: This sounds harsh, but there's no way to get some customers back. This isn't SheaMoisture's first marketing faux pas; they have had plenty of opportunities to listen and change direction. Some women are no longer willing to offer opportunities to improve. There's no reason to engage with them, and when they start to get combative, disengage immediately.

Be transparent: When you do interviews and speaking engagements, acknowledge your mistakes. Don't say that people misunderstood you or you don't know what happened. You have plenty of constructive think pieces and comments to understand what was problematic and why. Acknowledge this, and then explain the ways in which you hope to resolve the situation and improve in the future. Most importantly, follow through, don't let it be lip service.

What Happens Now

So, what happens now? Honestly, I don't know. SheaMoisture has to decide if they want to keep or move on from their core demographic, and to be honest, the latter may not even be possible. If they want to keep black women as customers, they're going to have to work hard to get them back. Marketing campaigns are going to have to be made with a lot of care, and I would even say they should go to testing groups before going live. They're going to have to get their social media engagement in tip-top shape and learn when to engage and when to let go.

While the video opened the flood gates for criticism, their social media response was quite poor, and more than likely pushed more women to a boycott. While I personally don't use SheaMoisture (I'm a customer of their sister company, Nubian Heritage, though I'm considering whether or not to continue to support them), I honestly hope they can come back from this. Many black women put a nail in SheaMoisture's coffin, but only SheaMoisture can decide if they want to stay reposed or rise from the dead.

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