Sondos Al-Qattan: Lessons from a social media star and a self-made crisis

Will brands continue to work with Sondos Alqattan after this outburst?

It’s news that has gone global, from CNN and Buzzfeed in the US all the way to Manila. No, it’s not movement on the Middle East peace process, or an update on the fight against extremism. Instead, the headlines are being made by a social media star and her views on a specific nationality. I’ve lost count of the number of articles and videos I’ve seen that have featured Sondos Al-Qattan, a Kuwaiti national and make-up tutorial social media star who has 2.3 million followers on Instagram. Sondos is one of the original social media stars; she’s worked numerous beauty brands, and she’s made significant money doing so.

Given this, you’d think she’d have some savvy when it comes to what she says online. This doesn’t seem to be the case. On the 14th of this month Sondos spoke against the new laws put in place by the Kuwaiti government governing the treatment of Filipino workers in the country. To put it mildly, Sondos wasn’t pleased. A video of her was shared where she criticized the new laws. To paraphrase:

“For people who want to get a Filipino domestic worker, what are these ridiculous work contracts you’ve got to sign? The woman I met with was reading out the rules to me and I was shocked. Put aside that they need to be given a break every five hours, that’s normal. But, how can you have a ‘servant’ in your house who gets to keep their passport with them? Where are we living? If they ran away back to their country, who’ll refund me? Even worse, is that they get a day off every single week! What’s left? Honestly, with this new contract, I just wouldn’t get a Filipino maid. She’d only work six days a week and get four days off a month.”

The condemnation was swift, both in the media and on social platforms despite the original clip being deleted. The video below is just one example of many of how she’s been criticized.

What’s telling about the case isn’t just how to get yourself in trouble online. The Sondos incident is a wealth of lessons, for both communicators and social media influencers.

  1. There is no Local – Sondos may have thought that she was addressing a local, Kuwaiti audience (she was speaking in Arabic on a local Instagram account). However, there is no local online. Her comments were widely shared, and translated. Once they were translated, her views went global.
  2. Audience is Authority – If this was a Gulf national with a couple of hundred followers, it’d have been dismissed. With a following of over two million, this would have never been the case with Sondos. Social media influencers (and brands) must understand that people are hanging on your every word, both good and bad.
  3. Brands will make a Choice – With her words, Sondos offended a whole nationality, a population of over 100 million who spent over 1.28 billion dollars on imported makeup in 2015. Brands who work with Sondos, the likes of Phyto, Max Factor and others) will quickly decide if they want to put their sales in danger (they should have already put out statements by now, especially given the number of calls for boycotts on her YouTube pages). Brands who are looking to work with social media influencers are increasingly understanding the need to do safety checks; if an influencer has said something negative, brands will simply not work with them.
  4. Stop Digging – Sondos has done pretty much everything she can to nullify criticism. She’s turned off comments on her Instagram page, her Twitter account is private, and she’s not responded to any media queries. A new video has been posted tonight by Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas in Arabic, where she basically repeats her initial messages and adds that she sees the media coverage as a good thing as it’ll make the Kuwaiti government take action on behalf of those who hire Filipino maids. Some people just don’t learn.

This issue may go away in a couple of days – people have short attention spans. But in a world where there’s no concept of local, Sondos would have been best advised to listen to the criticism and apologize in English for her views. As it is, I don’t see how she can continue to work with global brands when she herself has become a toxic brand.

Subaru Emirates, Facebook, sexism, racism, and loss of life = a social media disaster

I’m a hardened comms person/journalist. I’ve seen a lot of materials which offends and much of that material doesn’t surprise me. However, this morning I was wincing at a post on Facebook, on the UAE page of the automotive brand Subaru. The post, which relates to a recent accident which claimed the lives of four people, offends both women and a specific nationality. While this isn’t enough, not a single positive piece of advice is given to drivers to help avoid such a tragedy in the future. The post is screen-captured below. And to ensure maximum shock value what would you title such a piece? ‘Women drivers at it again’.

For me, pretty much everything that could have been done wrong was done wrong with this post. Frankly, it's disgusting.

For me, pretty much everything that could have been done wrong was done wrong with this post. Frankly, it’s disgusting.

To fan the flames of outrage further, the admin person does not apologize but rather seeks to defend the comments against the criticism (sixty comments and counting and 58 shares within 21 hours). This has gone out to 15,000 accounts who have liked the page and has been distributed to hundreds more through the shares. Depending on Subaru Emirates’ advertising policy in the UAE this could have reached hundreds of thousands more. Stepping aside from the grotesqueness of the post, it’s a remarkable thought that the company could have alienated over half of its potential buyer base. As an aside, I doubt that the page has asked permission from the newspaper Emirates 24/7 to use this image in a commercial setting.

I’m not going to delve deeper into this as there’s little positive about this episode apart from to learn what not to do when promoting a brand through Facebook. Subaru, please do the right thing and apologize for the post and ensure that the admin person learns the error of their ways.

Comments are below for the post (apologies for the size but it’s easy to zoom in and view/read).

This is the first comments screen shot. Note the defensive post by Subaru Emirates and the anger of the responses.

This is the first comments screen shot. Note the defensive post by Subaru Emirates and the anger of the responses.

And it goes on...

And it goes on…

And on and on...

And on and on…

I’m sure that Subaru has guidelines for appropriate social media usage for its internal staff and agencies. They need to ensure that these guidelines are understood by all and that they are followed by their social media admin persons. I’ll be writing a how-to blog for how to use Facebook properly soon. As a responsible individual, we all need to understand the other. That’s even more true when you’re running someone else’s brand on their behalf.