By Mike Stiles on Apr 18, 2014
It’s the nightmare every C-suite exec envisioned back when talk of doing social media first started…what happens if the brand makes a catastrophic and very public social media mistake? Don’t people realize how much money has been spent on marketing and PR to make sure every syllable the brand puts out is soft, safe and sanitized?
Social is 24/7, real-time, revealing, and involves interaction between humans. That is not a recipe corporations seek out. But it’s the one they’re now forced to deal with. And just as they feared, mistakes are going to be made.
Case in point, this week’s disastrous tweet on the US Airways account containing a photo I really can’t describe without getting into trouble myself. To its credit, the airline is not firing the social manager who made the mistake. Skift.com found US Airways sends over 400 reply tweets a day, with an average response time of 38 minutes. Despite the horror of the mistake, that’s a solid record. An organization dispensing with the “off with their heads” mentality when it’s not warranted is quite mature and refreshing.
They are hardly alone in taking a social media stumble. Sometimes it’s innocent error. Sometimes it’s being greatly disconnected from how the public feels about you and what they’re likely to do, such as a financial firm’s cancelled Q&A after followers seized the solicitation for questions as a chance to mock the brand and industry mercilessly.
All too often, it’s a lack of judgment or a lack of awareness to make good judgment calls. Far too many brands have piggybacked on trending current events for marketing purposes, only to meet with blowback from followers for being exploitative. Light events like the Super Bowl, fine. Tragedies & anniversaries of tragedies, not fine.
Sometimes, it’s rogue employees such as the live-tweeting of a mass firing at HMV on the brand account, made worse by the marketing director then publicly asking followers, “How do I shut down Twitter?”
And sometimes, bad things even happen from what you don’t do. British Airways lost Hasan Syed's luggage and didn’t respond to his Twitter inquiry, so he simply bought a promoted tweet and amplified what happened, which was his right. British Airways later admitted its Twitter feed was only open during the day.
So here are a few things to keep in mind about when bad tweets happen:
- As some of the above examples illustrate, you’re often your own worst enemy. Learn to do social right.
- Have a social media policy so you’ll minimize risk and instantly know what to do if something goes wrong.
- Get the best social listening tools you can find so you’ll know what’s being said about you.
- Understand that if you make a mistake, it’s going to go viral, especially if it’s funny. You better find a sense of humor about your corporate self if you don’t have one.
- Know that social is a human endeavor…if it’s done right. Mistakes are going to happen. Don’t over-react.
- Don’t hire your social managers carelessly. They have to be smart, aware of the world around them, in tune with their audience, able to stay calm in a crisis, and have solid judgment.
- If a bad tweet happens, do NOT try to be slick. Own up to it, explain it, apologize if necessary.
- Know that a bad tweet usually isn’t as big a deal to readers as it is to you. They’ll express snarky outrage if it’s in bad taste. They’ll have fun with it at your expense. But they’re generally understanding and forgiving. Remember, they do social themselves. They know it’s a high wire act.