One of the best aspects of social media is that it gets your biggest fans and followers talking about your service, product or site. But the “sharing” aspect only works in your favor when you’ve been good, and as Urban Outfitters shamefully learned this week, the power of social media is a hella sharp double-edged sword.
The retailer, present in malls and shopping centers around the country, has positioned itself as a fanciful marketplace not unlike the open-stall stores on St. Mark’s Place or Canal Street. But in the quest to remain on top of trends, the retailer engaged in a shady practice- one that is strongly looked down upon in the handmade and indie communities on the internet in particular- communities that happen to be very vocal, active, and supporting of their own.
Stores like Urban Outfitters regularly scout indie marketplaces for “inspiration,” which can often be the culling of trends but in its worst incarnation, is outright theft. And Etsy seller Truche tells a touching tale of heartbreak in her Tumblr post about discovering the Urban Outfitters versions of her work on their website:
My heart sank a little bit. The World/United States of Love line that I created is one of the reasons that I was able to quit my full-time job. They even stole the item name as well as some of my copy.
I’m very disappointed in Urban Outfitters. I know they have stolen designs from plenty of other artists. I understand that they are a business, but it’s not cool to completely rip off an independent designer’s work.
If anything, the Etsy seller was vindicated in the ensuing backlash, but no word on a resolution other than removal of the offending pieces has been disclosed by the retailer. But Truche wasn’t the only entity hurt here- such a blatant lack of respect for an artist’s work is likely to cost the retailer far more in business than the sale of the copied necklaces ever would have gained them in profit.
So remember that even if a particular interaction doesn’t start on social media, it has the potential and indeed likelihood to end up there once either party gets sufficiently motivated. And once it’s out there, you can never take it back- in this case, teen sensation Miley Cyrus tweeted about the drama to her many fans, coming out solidly on the Etsy side.
Have you ever witnessed social media backlash against one of your favorite brands? Did it influenc your opinion either way?