Retailer Claire's Accessories is facing a PR disaster after spectacularly failing to learn lessons from a previous social media fumble.
The jewellery and accessories firm has been accused of copying several designs from independent firm Tatty Devine in a blog post entitled 'Can you spot the difference'. The post features comparisons of Tatty Devine's designs next to those of Claire's Accessories, with the similarities quite uncanny.
Fans have taken to social media to complain about the perceived injustice but these have either been met with silence or - worse still - hostility, with members of Claire's Accessories' Facebook page complaining that their posts have been deleted and they have been banned.
In a statement to Stylist Magazine, Hind Hadj, head of European marketing & PR for Claire's, said: "Claire’s is aware of the blog post yesterday on the tattydevine.com blog and is currently investigating these comments."
This isn't the first time that Claire's has been accused of copying designs - and not the first time that it has compounded its problems by taking a belligerent or ignorant attitude on social platforms.
Last year, independent jewellery designer Laura Figiel, founder of SheDraws, accused international retail chain Claire's Accessories of copying one of her designs for sale in its UK stores.
Figiel was first alerted to the issue by a contact on Twitter who spotted an item of jewellery at a Claire's Accessories shop which was similar to one designed by Figiel.
The designer posted a blog describing how she visited her local store and discovered the necklace in the shape of a telephone was on sale for £2. She subsequently received extensive online support for her cause with more than 200 comments on her blog and hundreds of tweets.
Many people used Claire's Twitter account in their tweets about the issue, and posted on the brand's Facebook page, but rather than react and respond, it chose to ignore the situation.
Claire's Accessories updated its Twitter account with a story about the necklace worn by an actress at a film premiere but it continued to ignore Laura Figiel's claims despite the continued attention on Twitter.
Writing on BusinessZone.co.uk at the time of the previous incident, editor Dan Martin concluded: "The world has changed. Negative messages about companies spread fast. This latest issue could be a misunderstanding but no-one will know that until Claire's accepts that it needs to reply. As it stands, the company now has a reputation for stealing the concepts of independent designers."
The concerning thing from Claire's Accessories' point of view, aside from any potential implications of copying designs, is its failure to learn from their previous mistakes in the social space.
Social media use is maturing now, and while the public has been willing to forgive early mistakes on social platforms as brands felt their way, this grace will not last forever. Particularly in the case of Claire's, the brand should have learnt by now that the golden rule of social media is that the customer is in control of the conversation. The brand only provides the platform for discussion. Efforts to control or edit the conversation will put the brand in a particularly negative light.
The lessons from the first debacle still apply now. But will Claire's Accessories learn the second time around or can we expect it to repeat its mistakes once more? Watch this space!