Sprint Corp. joined a long list of social media blunderers this week by posting online a video clip in which CEO Marcelo Claure asked a consumer to describe rival T-Mobile and she replied “ghetto.”
The comment came from a white woman who looked at a black man in the video before describing T-Mobile as ghetto. Claure had posted the clip on Twitter and took it down with an apology once a flurry of negative reactions showed the tweet had stepped over a line.
Reactions varied with one tweet saying the video was “so racist,” another that it was “classist” and a third that it was “disrespectful to all of us low-middle class Latinos.”
One communications expert said it was a prime example of pushing too far to garner an audience in the immense competition for attention on social media.
“I can have a whole-day lecture on social media blunders because we see so many examples,” said Hyunjin Seo, an assistant professor of strategic communications at the University of Kansas journalism school. “People want to grab an audience’s attention.”
Seo cited some of those instances, including a Twitter post by the Gap that included #Sandy during the aftermath of the 2012 storm. Including the hashtag meant anyone searching Twitter for information about the event could have seen Gap’s tweet, which essentially was an encouragement to shop.
The retail chain apologized, which Seo said research has shown is the right response.
“An apology is an effective way to defuse a situation,” she said.
The Gap also stirred controversy recently with a Gap Kids advertisement in which a white girl rested her arm on a shorter black girl’s head.
The ghetto comment that Sprint posted came during one of several “listening tour” sessions Claure has held with wireless consumers around the country.
In the video clip, Claure sits at a large table with several consumers. The skating rink visible behind them is in Bryant Park in New York. Claure turns to his right and asks the woman what she thinks.
“When I say T-Mobile to you, just a couple of words,” Claure said.
“Oh, my god. The first word that came to my head was ghetto. That sounds, like, terrible,” she said.
In the clip, the woman covers her face partly as if she thought better of her remark. In an online report about the clip, the website BGR.com said this:
“As soon as she says it, the room full of white people erupts into laughter. And as a nice added touch, you’ll notice that the woman coyly bites her lip, shrugs, and appears to quickly glance over at the only black man sitting at the table just before she says ‘ghetto.’ ”
Sprint decided to highlight the segment, and Claure posted it Twitter.
His tweeted message was that sometimes the truth hurts. Claure has written about other listening tour comments, including negative ones about Sprint. These have not had the impact of the ghetto comment.
“The reaction we got was quite negative, and we reacted immediately ... and we took it down,” Sprint spokesman Dave Tovar said.
Tovar declined to say why this comment among many the consumers made was chosen for the Twitter post or who made the choice.
“It was a Sprint decision,” Tovar said of posting the woman’s comment.
Sprint quickly pulled the video clip from Youtube though others have posted it online.
Claure, in another tweet, acknowledged the poor word choice by the customer without commenting on Sprint’s decision to turn it into a social media message. He did write that the the intent was not to offend anyone.
Claure then tweeted again, this time to say the video clip was taken down and to apologize for the “bad judgment on our part” to post it.
Meanwhile, others reached out to T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who has been willing to take shots at Sprint on social media. This time he declined.
Social media reactions to other recent events demonstrate the instant feedback that comes with an interconnected world. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently drew unfavorable attention with a racially charged joke in a skit they performed at a Washington, D.C., event.
In another Twitter incident, a social media coordinator at KitchenAid used the company account to tweet insensitively about the death of President Barack Obama’s grandmother a few days before he was elected. Seo said the head of the KitchenAid brand wisely took charge of the situation and apologized personally, giving credibility to the claim that the tweet was not the company’s.