Why It Matters by Siobhan O’Neill
Many of us watched not only the first Presidential debate, but what happened during it when a member of KitchenAid’s social media team accidentally tweeted a tasteless remark about our President’s late grandmother from the brand’s account. Mashable broke it, Gawker reported on it and it even hit the front page of CNN. (Just reading about it will make you curl up like boiled shrimp in your chair.) Gaffes like this are nothing new, it’s happened before, and before.
One of the chief refrains we have heard about this and other “mistaken tweeting” cases stem from the fact that some mobile Twitter applications do not do the greatest job of helping their user correctly select from the multiple accounts they want to tweet from, to say nothing of interfaces that can be finicky about private and direct messages. A case of “fat thumbs” or accidental clickback is all it takes to destroy the trust we’ve carefully built with our clients and the public.
Any crisis-communications practitioner’s worst nightmare is the crisis that was totally preventable with a few simple safeguards; or our own personal worst nightmares of a really stupid, but altogether innocent, mistake like this that could cost a client relationship. Imagine how their entire KitchenAid team feels right now, both agency (if they have one) and client. Imagine how you would feel if it was you.
Many social media teams have implemented a few safeguards in the interest of best-practices; I share those with you in the interest of making sure you’ve thought about what you’d do to prevent, and recover, from something like this.
1. Use Separate Management Clients for Personal/Work Accounts.
This seems silly, but we have seen folks say time and again, “I was SURE I was tweeting from my own account!” Clearly, there is still risk there. Use the native Twitter client for one, and choose another one for the other. It’ll force you to think twice about what you’re doing before you even open the app.
2. Limit access.
Example: There are two people on my team who have access to my own clients’ accounts, and two members of the brand/client teams. That is more than enough. Limiting access limits the possibility for error. And how often do you anticipate accessing the company Twitter account via mobile or tablet after-hours? Most of the tools we all use allow us to pre-schedule and automate some tweets. You can still check in on a logged-out web client later.
3. Stop, Breathe, Triplecheck.
If you are posting something, take a moment. Don’t rush, no matter how urgent it is. Take the time, re-review and make sure it’s right.
4. Common sense is common.
As one of the commenters to the Mashable article said, “If you are the type to make jokes about the President’s deceased grandmother, then perhaps social PR is not the career for you.” A good rule of thumb is “Would you be comfortable with this attributed to you on the front page of the NY Times?” Even as your accounts are personal, and your tweets are your own, you are still an emissary of your client and your employer, when you’re on or off the clock. That way, should you make a mistake, your tweets likely won’t get you into quite as much trouble as the inspiration for this post got into.
5. Be contrite.
If the worst actually happens, there are two steps you need to take immediately. First, take it down and apologize. Immediately, without defense, and in brief. One of the things we see in most cases is the fact that an immediate apology often does a lot to stem criticism. It won’t stop the story from going viral, should it hit Mashable or Gawker, but it can do much to mitigate the tone of the conversation. Second, alert your team. That means pick up the phone, email, text message, send a carrier pigeon, skywrite, whatever. Talk to them and alert them to the situation.
And remember: Forewarned is forearmed. If you haven’t planned for this scenario, you should. I know, I know; nobody wants to talk about what happens if there *is* a mistake, but you’re better off having planned for what you’ll do if it does happen. Make sure you account for this scenario in your crisis and issues management plans and follow all protocol that you’ve established with your team and client; your individual protocol may vary.
Siren photo courtesy of BigStock..