Community management, humor and sensitivity

Enrique Dans

No sooner had the Netherlands beaten Mexico in the group round of the World Cup thanks to a last minute goal and a disputed penalty, than KLM, the Dutch flag carrier, thought it might be amusing to send out a tweet featuring the image displayed above, complete with clichéd Mexican mustache and hat, and the message “Adios Amigos! #NEDMEX”

Unsurprisingly, the tweet immediately generated no small amount of negative comments, prompting the company to withdraw said tweet within half an hour.

Above and beyond the question of sensitivities and stereotypes, there is an interesting issue here. Obviously, the tweet was a blunder: there is little to be gained from publishing something that is likely to irritate just about everybody who isn’t Dutch, which was reason enough not to do it. At the same time, KLM also knows that a stunt like this is not going to affect its ticket sales, which are based principally on its prices, service, and punctuality.

In other words, not even Mexicans are likely to bear the tweet in mind when choosing their next flight, assuming that KLM meets their needs.

We should also bear in mind that in today’s world, where even major events are superseded within days or even hours, a tweet of this nature is hardly likely to enter the annals of history. Twitter storms can make life difficult for those at the center of them for a couple of hours, but they soon pass over.

Which raises the question as to why companies have community management departments whose job is precisely to avoid blunders of this nature, when said blunders are hardly likely to send the company’s share price plummeting? The answer in this case is that this is a question of perceptions. In the final analysis, the community manager’s job is to make the company more human, more accessible, to give the brand personality, as long as that personality is not aggressive or insulting: qualities few of us appreciate.

When it comes to post-sales service, for example, it is clear that the use of the social networks tends to make companies look better by making them more accessible, as well as the fact that companies tend to dedicate more resources to their presence on the social networks, as well as giving the teams working on them more opportunities to use their own initiative.

The attitudes that a company encounters as a result of its daily contact with its clients are the result in large part of perceptions of what we might call the company’s personality when using the social networks.

Companies that are regarded as responsive and open in their dealings with the public and that don’t seem to have any skeletons in the cupboard or dirt under the carpet, tend to inspire greater trust, which in turn contributes to better productivity and mutual benefits. These perceptions can even extend beyond the company, and influence the standing of the personal brands of company directors or people associate with the business.

Whereas companies that have made you feel insulted, which give the impression of not respecting you, or that have made jokes about your country are only making life difficult for themselves on the social networks. Soccer arouses passion, and everybody wants to celebrate their team’s victories, but we need to do so in a respectful manner, remembering the old adage that it is just as important to know how to lose as it is to win. After all, you never know which soccer club the person you are talking to supports, nor which country he or she might come from.

(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)

    Enrique Dans

    Written by

    Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at

    Enrique Dans

    On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)