Dubai: Abu Dhabi-based Subaru Emirates has received a backlash of online criticism after blaming a fatal car accident on a driver’s gender and nationality.
Companies are failing to understand the importance of social media as part of their branding strategy, UAE social media experts have warned, with many companies treating social media as a secondary marketing tool.
The warning follows a social media blunder by Al Adiyat Automobiles-owned Subaru Emirates in Abu Dhabi. The Subaru Emirates official Facebook page posted a status blaming a driver’s gender and nationality for an accident on Shaikh Zayed Road that clamed four lives.
The status posted by an outsourced contractor handling Subaru Emirates media was later deleted after Facebook users expressed their outrage.
“I cannot respect a company who turns a tragic accident into a moment to take an irrelevant, sexist remark. Serious unprofessional,” Facebook user Khalisah Khalousy Eves posted.
Derryl D Souza wrote: “Gender bias.. HUGE PR mistake Subaru (sic),” in response to the status.
“What kind of message are you trying to send here? I wasn’t aware that gender nor national can be the main cause to accidents!!! I honestly thought mentalities like this have extinct. Very poor social media and PR. Shame on you (sic),” posted Facebook user Shayma Zaq.
An employee at Subaru Emirates Al Reem Towers Subaru Showroom in Abu Dhabi said the media contractor is a friend of a senior official. The employee, who did not give her name, said the status was posted without approval from the company.
“At this stage Subaru Emirates will look to discontinue their relationship with the individual,” the employee said.
Gulf News was unable to verify the employee's statement. Subaru Emirates did not respond to additional requests for information.
The company later posted an apology on its official Facebook page on Sunday afternoon, 26 hours after the original post appeared.
Alex Malouf, a Dubai-based blogger and social media commentator, said the problem is that companies often place social media in the hands of people who don’t understand how to use it.
“Whoever is controlling social media needs to know what to say and what not to say online. You are not just representing yourself but you’re representing a brand. The person handling social media needs to know how the brand should be represented and understand the brand's procedures,” he said.
Too often executives are not briefed on guidelines and best practices of using social media, Malouf said. “But these things just shouldn’t happen.”
Tahani Karrar-Lewsley, Founder & CEO of Dubai-based specialist social media marketing company Menar Media, said it is vital that companies take social media seriously.
“Social media has become the most important part of a companies marketing strategy.”
“We have seen companies fail in the UK for use of bad social media,” she added.
Social media blunders can be very harmful for the brand, Karrar-Lewsley said, because of how quickly information can be accessed.
“Companies spend millions of dollars developing their brand and an incident like this can undo all the hard work,” Karrar-Lewsley said.
Companies are able to bounce back and repair their image, Karrar-Lewsley said, by coming out immediately and saying that the incident doesn’t represent company’s views.
“They used to, say, wait 24-hours in crisis management but now with Twitter it's 24-seconds.”
“The longer you leave it the worse it gets.”
Elias, Boutsikaris, Digital Media Director at Dubai-based management consultancy Andarakis, said incidents like this can be very damaging for a brand in a relatively small market like the UAE.
“It stays in the memory for a really long time and in this case the brand will take a hit.”
Malouf said companies are always able to come back from these incidents because consumers are forgiving.
“Subaru is well known and has a lot positives going for them but it takes just a couple of minutes for incidents like this to get attention.”
Karrar-Lewsley said she hopes companies in the region will learn from the Subaru Emirates Facebook incident, but ultimately she is afraid companies are not taking social media seriously enough to avoid a repeat.
“They have their heads in the sand.”
“This will happen again.”