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Dealing with social media mishaps

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When you tweet something about work that you shouldn’t have, or from the wrong account and it gets picked up, you want the ground to swallow you up. It’s awful, and the chronicles of social media crises are full of heads on pikestaffs.

But what feels like a full-on social media crisis at the time, often turns out to be a storm in a teacup a few days later, with only a few red faces to show for it. It’s one of the ‘mishap’ scenarios described in a great piece of guidance from New Zealand (hat tip: Craig Thomler) which they deem the more easily fixable.

In a training course on Monday, we gave participants three ‘crisis’ scenarios, and got them to share what their handling strategy would be for each. The one that sparked the most debate was a version of this one:

A junior communications officer has been tweeting live coverage of a ceremony taking place, at which national VIPs are present, including a Cabinet Minister and senior managers. During the sombre event, thinking they are tweeting from a personal account, the officer accidentally tweets a picture along with the comment “stick a bomb under the lot of them and there’ll be #nomorecuts”, which is widely retweeted.

Assuming you’re responsible for the channel, let me know in the comments or by Twitter (checking you’re logged into the right account first) what you would do:

  1. immediately?
  2. in the following few days?

For extra credit, how would your response differ if the account in question was the individual’s own work-related account (where they say in their bio or username where they work), rather than the organisation’s corporate channel?

Not sure there’s a right answer, but I’ll post an update with my thoughts tomorrow.

Update:

Thanks for the comments and responses on Twitter – all pretty sound thinking, I’d say. Here’s what my answer would be:

We can conclude a few things here:

  • The perpetrator of the offence will have learned a salutory lesson, and will be a wiser and smarter tweeter as a consequence who double checks before posting a controversial opinion (a valuable learning experience)
  • This isn’t the right place for humour: this was a sombre ceremony, and a fairly serious mis-tweet
  • We need to be transparent about what happened and how we’ll learn from the experience
  • We need to respond quickly, ideally within a few minutes but certainly within a couple of hours
  • Longer term, we need to avoid similar mis-tweets, which in this case means ensuring people don’t mix accounts in apps like TweetDeck

So, assuming this happened on a corporate account, I’d suggest the team:

  • apologise
  • set record straight (including deleting the tweet)
  • take some action to reduce the risk of it happening again (not necessarily preventing the original tweeter from ever tweeting again)

“Sorry, a member of our team¬†inappropriately¬†tweeted an offensive personal opinion through this account”

“We’ve removed it, as it’s not the <org>’s view, and we’ll take steps to prevent that kind of mistake happening again”

“Today is really about <sombre ceremony>: [link to coverage/round-up of event]“

If it happened on an individual’s own professional account, the approach would be the same, with a couple of differences:

  • distance the professional persona from offensive remark
  • promise to learn, making sure you come across as an individual and show a bit of remorse
  • be clear this is about foolishness, not self-flagellation

“Sorry, I foolishly tweeted an offensive comment through this account in the heat of the moment. I’ve since removed it.”

“It didn’t reflect my professional view or the view of my employer. I’ve learned a tough lesson and will apply better judgment in future.”

Any views?

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  1. Sorry to be a bit of a pain, but does the organisation in question have a social media policy? Because such a policy should have some kind of guidance on what to do.

    Beyond that here’s how I would proceed:
    - an apology is needed, and it needs to be clear, concise and swift
    - the apology should come from the employee themselves, and should not draw the bosses into it
    - I’m unsure as to whether it’s worth deleting the original offending message – the damage is done anyway
    - Longer term this would need some group reflection with the employee concerned, and indeed every employee too. Done correctly it could be a good opportunity to change the culture in the organisation with regard to social media.

    Of course none of that is a complete answer, but swift, honest and frank is generally the best way.

  2. Ok, so if the policy is the most general one – i.e. don’t be stupid – this employee has clearly broken it, and seriously. But priority one is to stop the mess – and doing that needs an immediate apology and explanation. The more complex stuff is longer term – if I were the offending employee’s manager I would be livid – not with the individual necessarily, but because the conservative control culture would kick in within the organisation. That’s what would need to be averted at all costs.

    BTW if you want a real life study on this you can compare and contrast the European Commission’s reaction to the Kill Bill video, and the Girls in Science in video. In the former, DG Enlargement realised they made a mess (disclosure: via a contorted route I advised them to acknowledge this) and the problem was dealt with reasonably effectively. DG Research (I think) was responsible for the other one and when it met a similar critique they just let the whole thing rumble on, causing much more damage.

  3. Very good advice. As with any mishap honesty is the best method of dampening down the heat on the issue. Therefore in this case to apologise and promise to stop this happening again should be suffice although as the ‘good day to bury bad news’ incident showed after 9/11 sometimes the mistake is so hard to defend the apologising is not enough. This tends to be the case when the all too unforgiving politics is involved so in general an apology and pledge to act should be enough. Worst approach would be to delete and trot out the ‘we’ve been hacked’ line.