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Wed 25 Jul 2018 10:07 AM

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Comment: Social media can break you faster than it makes you - just ask Sondos Al Qattan

The Kuwaiti Instagram star's social media blunder is a valuable lesson in social media gone awry for influencers and brands, writes Bernd Debusmann Jr

Comment: Social media can break you faster than it makes you - just ask Sondos Al Qattan
Before long, many of the beauty brands with which Qattan had relationships – including Max Factor Arabia, the UK-based Chelsea Boutique and French perfume brand M. Micalle – severed ties with her.

Last week, the region’s – and indeed much of the world’s – media was abuzz with the controversy swirling around Kuwaiti social media influencer Sondos Al Qattan’s ill-advised and thoughtless comments about Filipino domestic workers.

Her comments aside, the rightfully enraged public backlash in many ways illustrates the enormous power – both good and bad – of social media.

Qattan’s troubles began on July 10, when she posted a video in which she expressed seemingly sincere incredulity that new Kuwaiti regulations will give Filipina domestic workers one day off a week and forbid employers from keeping their passports.

Rather than apologise or walk back her comments in the face of mounting criticism, Qattan doubled and then tripled down with a series of remarkably tone-deaf responses, in which she defended her comments and upbraided her critics.

Before long, many of the beauty brands with which Qattan had relationships – including Max Factor Arabia, the UK-based Chelsea Boutique and French perfume brand M. Micalle – severed ties with her.

Let Qattan’s case serve as a cautionary tale. For one, the incident serves to starkly highlight the potential downsides of brands funnelling considerable resources into potentially fruitful and lucrative relationships with personalities, ranging from athletes to actresses and social media influencers with online followings that dwarf those of many media outlets.

The brand can never guarantee what the influencer will say or do, making it paramount that they choose carefully who they work with.

Recent history is full of examples of brands having to drop people after poorly thought out statements, bad decisions or simple stupidity.

Tiger Woods, for example, lost sponsors after a car crash exposed a slew of infidelities. Others, from Wayne Rooney and Michael Phelps to YouTuber Logan Paul, have had companies sever ties with them over a variety of reasons.

It’s important to note that the brands that were slow to put out statements or didn’t respond at all to the Qattan case were the ones that attracted much of the public ire on social media, suggesting that many companies around the globe are yet to understand the speed of information in the modern age.

News – good or bad – travels incredibly quickly these days, and companies that are slow to respond to problems, or mishandle their response, will very likely suffer a subsequent PR nightmare.

The public outcry following Qattan’s comments also led some – including a prominent local newspaper – to decry what they considered Qattan’s “trial by social media.”

The notion that a well-paid social media influencer – who makes a living through the online platforms – is ‘unfairly’ facing trial by social media is, to put it simply, absurd.

She is a professional with a massive international following, and social media is her office. As someone who earns her keep through social media, she should know better, or at least be prepared to face the predictable consequences.

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