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An Open Letter to Ann Taylor LOFT (That Means You Mr. Muto)

by Guest Blogger, Lena West, Chief of Social Media Strategy at xynoMedia

If you haven't heard the latest scuttlebutt (don't you just love that word?!) about Ann Taylor LOFT's alleged FTC blogging rules violations, I won't recap it all here, but click here to get the skinny. Seriously, click that link and read the blog post there - I'll wait. C'mon, it's important to read it so you understand what I'm about to say below...

Ok, back?

Here's my advice for Mr. Muto:

  • Come clean. Even if you technically didn't do anything wrong, this looks bad. Your response of, "They could write whatever they want. Obviously, there's freedom of speech," is a horrible defense. It brings up the same sentiment for me as when someone says, "It's his word again'st mine." It make me think that most truly innocent people don't make statements like that. Honesty trumps here. A solid, "We were trying to move into the social media space and we may have gotten over zealous. It was not our intent to break any laws. We're all still new to social media. Our brand stands for classic integrity and we still uphold that." You don't have to say the dreaded "A" word (apologize) or the "S" word (sorry) and you make sure people can still connect with your brand's values. But, right now, the brand looks like it got caught with its hand in the blogger jar.
  • Develop a social media "home base" and do it now. If this little snafu has taught you anything, it should have taught you that in order to defend your brand in the brave, new, wild west of social media, you need to be ON the social media grid to do so. Trying to defend your brand from blossip (blog gossip) with traditional PR methods is like trying to win the football game by playing out in the parking lot. I went to all the Ann Taylor web properties and didn't find ONE social media icon. A Facebook search turned up a darned near blank Business Page. A Twitter search was not fruitful. The company does have a Company Page on LinkedIn. *Yawn.* C'mon Mr. Muto. The fastest growing population segment on LinkedIn is women ages 45-55. Why isn't the brand there???
  • Getting bloggers to blog about your products is NOT a shortcut to using social media. There is NO shortcut to engagement. Just because bloggers are writing about your products, doesn't mean you're "doing social media". Understand that, influence is but one piece to a solid social media strategy.

This is precisely why companies need to work with "someone in the know" about social media activities. When you don't, you get into hot water like this. Again, even if they did nothing wrong (that's for the FTC to decide), it looks crappy (to say the least) for their brand to be in the middle of this mess.

Right about now, Ann Taylor has just undone any social media street cred they worked hard to produce. Bummer.

I asked one of the top media law guys, Damon Dunn, about the Ann Taylor fiasco and here's what he says:

"Though the FTC has been talking about regulation, there hasn't been much enforcement, creating more confusion about company published content. The decision not to bring enforcement action against Ann Taylor adds to the confusion."

I agree. So, what can you do?

  • Get the best possible advice you can afford before you do anyhting. And, ALWAYS check with your attorney. If you don't have one and your business is based in New York, I recommend Nina Kaufman WITHOUT reservation. She really gets this star spangled, new fangled social media stuff.
  • Never trade seemingly unbiased social media content for anything of value - not a gift card, not for in-kind services, not for money. Nada. Bubkus. (Yes, you can engage the services of a copywriter to help you write blog posts, but that's different.)
  • If you do "incentivize", disclose and make bloggers sign an agreement to disclose. CYA and keep your nose clean.
  • Go with your gut. If you feel like something might cause a problem, chances are it will. Mitigate where possible and expect and prepare for the unexpected.


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Thanks for the kind words.

I love what you say here: "they are afraid to open it up to interpretation by non-brand inducted writers".

That's exactly what's going on, among other things like not knowing the culture of the medium and as a result trying to take shortcuts. Lack of willingness to open up and trying to take shortcuts only results in bad news.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Kate Hutchinson

Great post, Lena.

I'm a huge Ann Taylor fan, and while I love the brand relaunch they started in late 2009, I agree that they need to really start injecting more juice into social media--and be transparent about it.

I think the issue here is that the company obviously spent a lot of time on the rebranding, determining the messaging, the images, the words/phrasing that they wanted associated with the brand, and they are afraid to open it up to interpretation by non-brand inducted writers. If Ann Taylor really wants to capture fashion bloggers, they will let them have far more creative license.

This reminded me of my favorite work fashion blog, which has always disclosed its sponsored links and has a policy of transparency. Ann Taylor should take a look at this site for ideas on how to go forward.

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