The Author

An avid spinner and iced tea aficionado, Julie tackles association, nonprofit and small business communications challenges in this blog.  She's Senterline's Chief Problem Solver, able to overcome redundant databases and prickly politics with the greatest of ease.

Julie Senter's Social Media

Surviving the Mistweet: Play it off or fire the bastards?

It’s a pretty scary thing to turn the online face of your organization over to one or two people, but that’s what businesses do every day when they hire a staff person or a consultant to oversee their social media outreach.

And what happens when, {gasp!}  a mistake is made?

If you’ve spent any amount of time whatsoever managing more than one social media account, you can understand how it happens. I’d like to see statistics on the number of errant posts that get scrubbed from Twitter feeds daily without anyone being the wiser.

But every now and then one slips through on a major account with a large following. You can delete it, but it’s already “out there.” What do you do?

Two companies have faced this scenario recently and both chose very different paths to save face.  The American Red Cross deleted the item and posted a funny response tweet.  Chrysler deleted the item and fired its social media consultants.

Both organizations did the right thing, and I’ll tell you why.

The Midas Touch

So back In February, a wayward post appeared in the American Red Cross’ timeline. A mistweet, if you will.

Instead of panicking, the communications staff kept a cool head, deleted the post that was obviously intended for a personal account, and tweeted a humorous response: "Rest assured. The Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys."

Perfect tone! They responded with a sense of humor that’s appropriate for Twitter (and displayed some personality!) and in the same forum in which the error occurred. They didn’t write up a long-winded and irrelevant press release. They also didn’t ignore it. They acknowledged it with humor and moved on.  The Twittersphere did, too. Here's a great post from in which the American Red Cross' social media director explains the chain of events. 

#Motorcity Driving

So then Chrysler comes along with a big ticket advertising campaign launched with a kick-ass Superbowl commercial with the tagline “Imported from Detroit.” Eminem tells us that, “This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.” (As someone who lived and worked in downtown Detroit for two years, that commercial still gives me goosepimples.)

But less than six weeks later, someone with Chrysler's social media consultants, New Media Strategies, tweeted this:

That'll make Chrysler execs puke their breakfast. Chrysler apologized for the message, and New Media Strategies fired the employee, but the damage was done. Chrysler then fired New Media Strategies, much to consternation of many who felt the brand should "lighten up."

Now,  we can't know why exactly Chrysler fired New Media Strategies. There are indications there may have been other issues brewing and this tweet was the last straw. I tend to believe so because I don't think that a company as heavily invested in social media as Chrysler would fire their advisors based on one employee's severe lack of judgment (the employee deserves to get sacked, though).

But as far as the difference in approaches between the Red Cross and Chrysler, both are completely correct.

The Red Cross was right to use humor to deflect the impact of its mistweet. If it had been posted on the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Twitter stream, different story, but let's keep it in context. Mistakes happen, and everyone knows it. The error actually helped the Red Cross humanize itself, which led to greater donor gifts.

Chrysler, on the other hand, faced a serious issue because the high-profile tweet was in direct contraction to the pro-Detroit campaign it was spending millions to advertise. It also called into question the judgment of their Twitter proxy, not their ability to juggle multiple accounts. A person who tweets like that is saying the same kind of thing to their friends and shouldn’t be working the account in the first place. If you’re pushing "Imported from Detroit," you can't very well have someone representing you who hates Detroit. Sooner or later it'll show. 

Lessons Learned

The point is this: if you make a mistake on a tweet, own up to it, but don’t overdo it. We have a tendency to think something is a crisis when it’s not. Stay calm and truly assess what your risks are. Fortunately, the American Red Cross’ incident is a lot more common than Chrysler's.

But it’s also a reminder to NOT put the least experienced communicators (ie, interns) in charge of your company’s brand. I’ll rant more on that later. 

Photo credit: Flickr user Sunny Z

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