Jan 23, 2024 - Business

Parents across social media vow to boycott Kyte Baby

Illustration of hand cursors holding picket signs.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Kyte Baby, the organic clothing company with a cult-like following, is the latest brand to suffer a self-inflicted PR wound after denying an employee's remote work request while her newborn was in the NICU.

Why it matters: The string of apology videos from CEO Ying Liu has only made matters worse as angry parents boycott the brand in droves.

Catch up quick: Kyte Baby employee Marissa Hughes adopted a baby boy who was born prematurely in December and was placed in the NICU.

  • In order to use her allotted 2 weeks of maternity leave, Hughes was asked to sign a contract agreeing to return to the company for 6 months. She requested to work remotely upon return so that she could stay with her baby in the hospital, but Kyte Baby denied the request, forcing Hughes to quit.
  • Hughes' sister shared this saga in a TikTok Live and users flooded with app with outraged response posts — which led to a public TikTok apology from Liu.

Liu's first apology video received harsh criticism for the company's parental leave policies and her scripted delivery. Liu then posted another video admitting that her first apology was insincere and thus apologized for her apology.

  • This prompted social media users to point out that the CEO's string of responses were inconsistent with the company's values and digital presence as a family-first brand.

Be smart: TikTok likely was not the best place for Liu to offer her apology.

  • "A crisis will percolate and explode in a TikTok world," crisis communications expert Molly McPherson said at a recent Axios Communicators event. "I tell my clients, do not respond where the algorithm is. Go someplace else."
  • "If you put [the statement] on TikTok, then you're putting it in the algorithm — which means your response is going to be with all the angry people and that is the worst place that you can put someone in the middle of a crisis. People are just looking for a response that's authentic. It doesn't matter where it is, just as long as you're on the record somewhere."

By the numbers: Liu's apology videos created significantly more buzz, receiving close to 10 million views on TikTok.

  • Her apology is also linked to customer reaction videos, which have garnered millions of views. Currently, the hashtag #kytebaby has been viewed 714.4 million times.

Between the lines: This TikTok chatter also drives the news cycle.

  • Before the backlash, the brand averaged two earned media articles per week. Coverage has increased roughly 33,000%, according to MuckRack data, with 659 news articles written in the last seven days.

Zoom in: The media coverage led to more conversation across other social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and X, according to Newswhip data shared with Axios.

  • An Instagram post by People Magazine saw more than 30,000 engagements, while CNN saw roughly 25,000.

What they're saying: "Over the last few days our team has been working to make changes to ensure that something like this does not happen again," Kyte Baby said in a statement.

  • "We are revising our maternity policy to give new parents, both biological and nonbiological, more time off and creating a better process to support our employees. ...We've since realized that Kyte Baby needs to stand by their values of being a woman-owned, family company."

The bottom line: Everything communicates — including HR policies.

  • Not all internal decisions will grab the attention of millions on social media, but these decisions will certainly send a message to employees, investors, and outside partners.

Go deeper... Social media algorithms fuel rise in public apologies.

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