When I read early Wednesday morning that Roseanne Barr had tweeted a faux apology for her racist rant, blaming her actions on "Ambien tweeting," I wondered what the sleep drug's maker would do to address this acute PR crisis.
If I worked for the company and saw #AmbienTweeting trending, what would I do? About an hour after I decided that I'd do nothing, say nothing, tweet nothing, Ambien maker Sanofi took to Twitter:
People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.-- Sanofi US (@SanofiUS) May 30, 2018
This was the sort of response that many on Twitter were calling for. It's bold and declarative, and there's a lot of value in that.
It's not, however, what I would have done -- and it's not what you should do if your company lands in a similar situation. There are three reasons I would have stayed quiet:
1. You risk making it worse with your response.
If your brand is pulled into the Twitter-sphere, you should respond only if you're reasonably certain your tweet won't fall flat, offend or be misinterpreted. Trying to be funny -- and rushing in to do so -- is risky. Are there side effects that could be used against Ambien? Hmm... We'll get to that later.
You also risk looking like you are trying to turn the situation into a marketing opportunity.
A friend in the PR business reminded me of Mars Inc.'s great response to Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 tweet comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of potentially poisoned Skittles: "Skittles are candy; refugees are people. We respectfully refrain from further comment, as that could be misinterpreted as marketing."
That's a safer--and better--response.
2. You should let others spread your message.
Once Barr posted her it-wasn't-me-it-was-me-on-Ambien tweets, many people on Twitter cried foul. CNN's Van Jones, for example, tweeted:
From actor and comedian DL Hughley:
If people are already saying what you want them to know, why take the risk of getting involved? There's no reason.
There are, of course, Twitter trolls out there defending Barr and threatening to boycott ABC for canceling the Roseanne reboot. But it's not about the trolls. It's about protecting your brand, and only defending it when you have to.
3. You keep the conversation going.
Sanofi's tweet gave people more to share. It gave the media more to report.
Soon after the drug maker's response, USA Today posted a story: "Ambien-maker to Roseanne: Racism is not a side effect of our drug." You know what it included? Ambien's side effects, including "abnormal thinking or changes in behavior" and "hallucinations."
It also included some of the FDA's concerns and Ambien-relation actions. And it reminded readers of other celebrities, like Tiger Woods, who have had issues while taking the sleep medicine.
Now that Sanofi has entered the conversation, I have to wonder: Will it stay in the conversation? Does it have any choice?
I'm thinking its weary PR team might need the antidote to Ambien in the coming days.