Travel platform Tripadvisor has apologised after users were shown an ad for a hotel located in Gaza City on Facebook. In the sponsored post, Tripadvisor reportedly invited users to book a stay at the Al Mathaf Hotel in Gaza City which is currently embroiled in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
The caption reportedly noted that it was "time for an escape" and invited users could book from thousands of traveler trusted hotels on the platform.
When users clicked on the ad, it led them to a Tripadvisor page that had a travel notice at the top stating that it is currently recommended that travelers avoid all non-essential travel to the area due to "armed conflict and serious safety risks".
A check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE found that users are unable to see hotel availabilities in Gaza and the site encourages users to contact specific accommodation sites for availability. In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Tripadvisor said that elements of its social media marketing programme are automated and that it populates advertisements with content based on a user's search history.
"Despite taking steps to ensure impacted locations are temporarily suppressed by our systems during times of conflict, in this case there was an error on our part which led to this particular advert being generated," it said.
Tripadvisor then apologised for the offense the advert caused. It assured users that it understands the "distress" caused and reiterated that it has taken steps to prevent this from happening again.
In these politically sensitive times, brands are being called out for insensitive posts and for seeming to support the wrong groups in the ongoing war. Recently, Singapore-based design studio, Beyond The Vines (BTV), came under fire for its insensitivity towards the situation in Israel and Gaza following a string of events on social media.
Netizens previously called out BTV co-founder, Daniel Chew for following an Instagram account owned by the Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries (FIRM). FIRM, which is a non-profit Christian organisation based in Jerusalem, made posts in support of Israel. Not long after, Chew's wife and co-founder, Rebecca Ting decided to address the situation, stating that Chew had been following FIRM “long before the conflict” and that Chew unfollowed the account once this was brought to his attention. She then refuted claims that Chew supported the war.
However, the live stream then sparked criticism against Ting’s handling of the situation. Many comments described Ting as being “tone deaf” and “ignorant”, and said she was seen laughing and talking about BTV’s new product launch right before she addressed the situation, inciting comments against the perceived insensitivity and lack of seriousness. BTV later published an apology statement on 16 November, clarifying that it does not “condone the killings of thousands of innocent Palestinians” and acknowledged its insensitivity in the way the situation was addressed.
The right tone for apology
As social media becomes more polarised in the present climate, brands and individuals are now having to navigate a social media landscape where digital footprints can easily catch up on them. With that in mind, what are some ways in which brands can mitigate or prevent crises from arising out of their digital footprints?
The need for speed
According to Lars Voedisch, principal consultant and managing director at PRecious Communications, when things said and done in the past come back to bite, brands should acknowledge the situation quickly and without evasion. He added:
“Denial only deepens the chasm.”
Voedisch continued by saying that crafting a response that combines brevity, clarity, and sincerity is essential, He emphasised the importance of sticking to the facts without unnecessary embellishments. "While the brand should not ignore the past, it can also spotlight positive aspects of its current initiatives," he said.
In the same vein, Manisha Seewal, president of communications agency Redhill, added that members of the public will be more forgiving if something that was done in the past is rectified quickly and authentically.
Speed takes precedence over an explanation for the action, as this can help customers to feel heard by the brand, she said.
According to Seewal, the reputational damage from social media crises usually goes through an initial blip before exploding full-on, such as in the cases of Beyond The Vines. To mitigate that explosion, it is worth having active social media listening and the right PR support to pick up on the blips early. In doing so, brands can address the issue on the right platforms before they escalate further.
Is justification necessary?
Often, brands might attempt to justify their actions to audiences. However, Voedisch highlighted that a brand should only do so if it can clarify the situation without further aggravating it. Before acting, it is important to assess whether explaining the context is genuinely beneficial or if it will only make things worse.
“In the court of public opinion, honesty and transparency are the clear winners rather than a convoluted justification,” he said.
He added that it is also essential to not be caught off guard.
Setting a strong foundation through a robust crisis management plan can go a long way, he explained. This involves staying vigilant, monitoring the evolving online and offline sentiment of brewing social issues, and educating leadership on the brand’s communications values.
“It usually takes a few weeks for a topic to gain steam, which allows brands to be proactive, including but not limited to educating the senior leadership on associated brand and organisational values, scenario planning, clear communication protocols, and a strategy for addressing both positive and negative reactions,” he explained.
When considering addressing a situation, brands should also be sensitive to the platforms and events surrounding the crisis, according to Seewal who emphasised that crises are not isolated to the platforms they initially occur on. She said:
“It’s important to note that just because the issue happened on Instagram doesn’t mean it only needs to be addressed on Instagram.”
Depending on the seriousness of a given situation, a brand might need to communicate its response via multiple social media platforms.
It is also important to be mindful of surrounding events. For example, it’s not advisable to associate a new product launch with bad news, she said. Therefore, brands should address backlash separately from their business-as-usual campaigns and delay any launches where necessary.
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