Keeping your word in a social media world

SELF Magazine social media fail

Earlier this year, SELF Magazine, an American print publication that specializes in health, fitness, nutrition, beauty and happiness, used pictures of a cancer survivor to mock women running races in tutus. The backlash was so intense that a public apology from its Editor-in-Chief quickly followed, just like her dismissal.

On behalf of SELF, we sincerely apologize for our inadvertent insensitivity. I have personally reached out to Monika and her supporters online to apologize for the misstep and tell them we are trying to remedy the situation. At SELF we support women such as Monika; she is an inspiration and embodies the qualities we admire. We have donated to her charity and have offered to cover her good work in a future issue. We wish her all the best on her road to good health.

Most sincerely,

Lucy Danziger

Like many people, I find this apology to be forced and half-hearted. Why? Here are some reasons:

  • Start with “we sincerely apologize,” which has been used by every company caught red-handed in the last few years.
  • Continue with an oxymoron (“inadvertent insensitivity”) to look smart and try deflecting responsibility for your mistake – The role of an editor-in-chief is to vet content to ensure that it stays true to the spirit of the publication. SELF contacted Monika without telling her how they would use her photo. If you look at the screenshot above, you can tell that the tone is everything but inadvertent. The decision to belittle women running in tutus was a conscious act.
  • Throw in two words that have been used and misused over the last five or six years (“inspiration” and “admire”) – All Danziger seems to say is that Monika only deserves an apology because of her “cancer survivor” status.
  • Finally, donate to clear your conscience - Yes, it’s a step in the right direction. But you cannot fully right a wrong with money. People expect more. Look at the comments under the apology, and you will understand what I mean.

So, what can we learn from this debacle? That everything you do has an impact on the way people will respond to you and ultimately on your bottom line. SELF Magazine may still have tons of fans and advocates, but it has alienated thousands of people in the process. This means cancelled subscriptions, negative word of mouth, and a stained reputation for a long time.

It is ok to make mistakes. What is wrong, though, is not taking full responsibility for them. Instead, own up the truth. And “Never ruin an apology with an excuse,” as Benjamin Franklin would say.

Want a good example of heartfelt apology? Check out Kickstarter’s here.

As an entrepreneur or small business owner, your role is to serve your audience. Stick to that message, unless you want to be remembered as an unreliable brand.

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