It started with a tweet. 

Earlier this month, communications analyst Colleen Kiphart tweeted a picture of her Güd body butter to anti-street harassment organizations, Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment. Her reason? A sentence on the packaging that encouraged users to “let the catcalling commence.” 

Hollaback quickly responded to Kiphart’s tweet and collaborated to create a petition on change.org demanding that Burts Bees, the parent company of Güd, issue an apology and remove the harmful wording. Within hours, Güd released an apology on their Facebook page, but for many advocates it was not good enough. 

Over the next two days, Hollaback! and founder Emily May relentlessly tweeted the petition at notable feminists on twitter asking if they could believe Burt’s Bees’ support of street harassment. Using the popular hashtags #EndSH and #NotBuyingIt, they were able to attract more than 1,500 signees to the petition in less than 24 hours. After the petition garnered an additional 500 signatures, Güd released another apology on their Facebook, this time acknowledging the harm their wording had caused, apologizing for it, and promising to be more thoughtful going forward.

So what are the takeaways from this exchange?

1.    Prevention– first things first, avoid controversy all together. While a company might think it’s being funny or edgy, take into account your audience. As Burts Bees discovered, many women don’t find catcalling flattering, they find it a form of harassment.

2.    Listen to twitter– from the Arab Spring to SOPA, online activism is real and has tangible effects. Companies can’t afford to ignore conversations on twitter, especially within activist communities, as the internet has become a powerful and viable means of organizing, as demonstrated here by Hollaback’s quick collaboration (all done virtually) to create and spread a petition.

3.    Acknowledge mistakes– if you do find yourself in hot water, listen to your consumers’ concerns and take their criticisms into account. Güd’s apology was notable precisely because it acknowledged their mistake and showed genuine understanding of the issue. 

4.    Commit to change– finally, show demonstrate a commitment to correcting the problem and to preventing future offenses from happening.