Today has been a fun ride. Behold the power of social media muscle.
Urban Outfitters (and their sister brand Anthropologie) – notorious for ripping off independent artists’ designs, mass producing them, and selling them back to their customers at a premium – had done it again. In such a blatant way. Here’s one of Stevie’s “I Heart NY” necklaces:
And Urban Outfitters’ ripoff “I Heart ____” necklace:
From Stevie’s tumblr post:
My heart sank a little bit. The World/United States of Love line that I created is one of the reasons that I was able to quit my full-time job. They even stole the item name as well as some of my copy.
Bad news travels fast
Bad form, UO. I put up a tweet.
About 15 minutes later, my phone lit up. Tweetdeck let me know “there are 56 new updates about you“. What?? I clicked through and sure enough, I was getting retweeted like crazy. I recognized many of my followers from the independent crafting and Etsy community. Cool, I thought. Stick it to em, crafters!
Five minutes later, Tweetdeck told me I had 121 new updates. And my Gmail blew up. Whaaaaa??!! It was time to get on Twitter.
Uhhh, what? My name was a national trending topic?
Well yes, it appeared that I was. The live feed showed dozens of tweets coming in every couple of seconds. People were retweeting me like crazy. I was a little baffled and really excited. Then I got some @replies alerting me that Urban Outfitters was trending all over the place as well. And sure enough:
Urban Outfitters was trending internationally
Urban Outfitters was trending nationally in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. And mine were the top two tweets. Edited to add: the bit.ly statistics for Stevie’s original tumblr post show it was clicked over 260,000 times at last count.
And it’s viral
Huffington Post and Boing Boing picked it up. It spread on Twitter like wildfire. My tweets were retweeted hundreds of times. Twitter users alerted me that former “fans” were blowing up the Urban Outfitters Facebook page.
Messages of support for Stevie and her jewelry poured in. Lots of people seemed outraged that they weren’t being sued. Many people seemed downright shocked and hadn’t heard of their previous douchebaggery in ripping off indie artists. Then I got this:
Heh. And indeed the images were gone, and a message “this item is no longer available” appeared on the item page on Urban’s website. (Edited to add: early this morning I got a direct message (from a credible source) whose sister works for UO. She said they’ve been told to pull the necklaces from all stores immediately.)
The Urban Outfitters Twitter page remained totally silent, although other tweets were being posted during this time. LAME.
(Edited to add: It was pointed out to me that UO did put out a tweet about this, before my screengrab below in their timeline. Just one.)
It’s been about 6 hours since my original tweet went up, and I’ve gotten hundreds of @replies and followers. It’s just crazy.
Three big lessons
Here are my takeaways as someone who is obsessed with the power of social media muscle and the ever changing pulse of marketing (thanks to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Michelle Rogerson for helping me think these through):
1. Don’t underestimate the power of Tribes.
In his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin explains that you only need 1,000 true fans to make a living. That the secret of success is no longer in mass appeal, but in niche. In the tight knit group of a network. Today’s Twitter craziness was all about that.
I am not a Twitter celebrity by any means. I barely had over 1,000 followers when the day began and I’m pretty sure about 200 of those are spam-bots. What I do have – and the reason that my call for a boycott on Urban Outfitters spread so fast and wide – is a tribe. A tight knit group of independent artists and crafters that follow me. My cause resounded with them. They spread it, and their friends spread it, and a few big influencers on Twitter spread it, and then it was gone.
When I worked as the webmaster (and often-shouted-down social media champion) at Fortune 500 railroad Norfolk Southern, I had a hard time explaining this concept. Their PR heads would say, “Why should a big corporation worry about cultivating a relationship with some railfan who only has 600 followers? Shouldn’t we go after the big ones? These little nobodies can’t do us any damage.” Well, today proved the opposite. Urban Outfitters is trending not because they have a great new line coming out, but because of a PR nightmare. Because one “nobody” put up a tweet about a crafter that had been wronged. And her tight little tribe of crafters responded.
2. If you have customers, social media matters
Urban Outfitters has so far remained completely silent about this whole thing, even though they are trending internationally on Twitter because of their screwup and their Facebook page is flooded with boo-hiss complaints. They have big social media followings, and they’re being silent at the time when they should be paying attention, apologizing, and making it right. They have social media people on staff, obviously. They’ve been posting other things. But they’re ignoring this huge PR nightmare.
If anything was reinforced to me today, it’s that social media happens FAST. If you have customers, you can’t afford to sleep on it. You need to be monitoring, whether that’s with free stuff like Google Alerts, or paying one of the excellent monitoring services like Radian6 to help you keep on top of things. Listen to the buzz, because just ignoring it does not make it go away.
3. People love a cause
A big corporation ripping off small businesses and independent artists is wrong. And in a time when it’s hard to find or keep a job, that’s an easy cause for people to get behind. I think another big reason this spread so quickly was because it was a genuine sentiment (stick it to the man, support this little guy) and that’s something that plenty of people believe in. When I worked at a big corporation, they were always asking how to “make something go viral” – but the truth is that nobody wants to retweet some lame press release that talks about what a great company you are, or asks people to buy your latest product. But something with meaning, something with a story behind it, something that people can identify with – now that’s an idea that spreads.
What about you?
Have you seen the power of social media muscle? Anything crazy like this ever happened to you? What do you think about the whole UO ripoff debacle? Do you know an intellectual property lawyer that can chime in on this stuff? Will a van full of hipster CEOs pull up and kidnap me in the middle of the night? Tell me in the comments.