Not Your Typical Makeup Tutorial: Learning from Tarte Cosmetics About Social Media


Social media has brought a variety of ways for folks to communicate with each other and for brands to reach the broader public. As an essential life tool for users, and maybe even more so for brands, it is crucial to know how to utilize each social platform to be effective in getting messages out. As we learn more about the best social media practices, we’re often learning through examples and missteps from other people or brands.

Take, for example, the recent controversy with Tarte Cosmetics, a popular, high-end makeup brand. In 2016, the brand launched “Shape Tape” concealer, which has been dubbed by beauty experts as the best concealer on the market, causing fans to beg Tarte for a “Shape Tape” foundation. In 2017, the brand hinted at a foundation launch and fans were in a makeup-educed frenzy. Unfortunately, when the foundation shades were released, Tarte was hit by a storm of disappointment. The foundation launched with 15 shades total, a flop in the cosmetic industry when other brands create foundations with at least 30 shades, promoting equality and inclusivity. Out of the 15 shades, there are only three dedicated to people of color. The lack of diversity made the launch of “Shape Tape” foundation a complete let down, and upset consumers took to their social platforms to express their feelings.

The quick wave of criticism resulted in Tarte disabling its comment section on Instagram. It took Tarte two days to respond to the comments about the foundation launch, which was done through a strategically placed interview with POPSUGAR, which backfired after a rep’s comments about shades being added seasonally because of complexion changes (insert facepalm). Tarte then took to its Instagram to respond to users. Creating an Instagram story, Tarte said the excitement and desire to push the product caused them to have a limited number of shades. The brand also made it clear that it would make a point to try harder to do better in the future, apologizing and taking responsibility for lacking inclusion for all users. While the story seemed to be genuine, Instagram only posts stories for 24 hours, unless utilizing the “highlight” function to prolong the time, which was not used.  Although Tarte’s initial announcement about the foundation was posted to its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, the brand only addressed the issue on Instagram, instead of all three outlets.

Here are three things we can learn from Tarte’s product launch missteps:

1.     Be timely, but not sloppy

Waiting two days to respond to such backlash was Tarte’s biggest communication mistake. In a time when social media is the first place consumers go to let their voices be heard, it’s important for companies to utilize their platforms in the same way. However, being timely shouldn’t mean slacking on the sincerity of the message. It’s important for brands to be thoughtful in their response.

2.     Be respectful and take responsibility


When Tarte disabled its comment section on the Instagram post, it was seen as ignoring the negative feedback from followers and not caring about the situation at hand. With a highly anticipated product such as “Shape Tape” foundation, Tarte’s priority should have been taking responsibility by accepting the comments being posted and responding in a way that showed genuine listening and care.  


3.     Know your platforms (and how to use them)

As communicators, we know we can’t assume our client’s audience is engaged across all platforms. Tarte promoted the product launch on all three of its social media platforms, but only addressed the issue on its Instagram, even though the initial negative conversation started on Twitter. Twitter users who don’t follow the brand on Instagram and didn’t view its story missed out on its apology and reasoning.

The communication mistakes made by Tarte were significant and consequential. With this in mind, we must learn from its errors and keep this campaign flop in mind as we use and advise our client’s social media strategy.

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