4 ways to avoid a Twitter PR disaster

Snowpocalypse Toronto - thanks to twitter.com/danisonfire for the image

Embarrassing, #FAIL-worthy tweets from corporate accounts is nothing new. When it does happen, media coverage and case studies ensue. Smart brands respond appropriately. Others make the situation worse. The municipality I live in has become the latest victim of the tweet-gone-bad phenomenon. In this case, an offensive, obscene message was tweeted from the corporate account. It’s possible the account was hacked. It’s more likely this was accidental, and the person responsible thought they were updating their personal account. What made this message so offensive is that the tweet criticized city residents and their inability to handle snow – during the biggest snowstorm we’ve seen in years.

This situation gives those of us who aren’t suffering through a real-time PR nightmare a chance to reflect on four basic ways to protect our own organizations from being tomorrow’s social media case-study.

1. Properly train your employees to use Twitter

You wouldn’t hand the keys to your car to someone who just read an instruction manual, so why would you hand the keys to your most valuable asset (ie. your brand) without proper training and education? Giving employees social media guidelines is a start – but it does bupkiss if they don’t know how to apply them. Proper hands-on training from experienced folks who know how to use social media – in a business context – is the only way to make social media guidelines effective and relevant. This doesn’t mean  you need expensive external consultants either. You’ll gain more trust (and traction) if you use internal people who know how to train people on using social media, and more importantly, how to tie it’s use to the strategy and purpose of the company.

A solid Twitter training curriculum includes:

  • Training on your organization’s social strategy and how Twitter supports your goals (hint: having a Twitter account isn’t a strategy).
  • Defining the language and tone of your brand (are you colloquial? 3rd-person? Cheeky?)
  • What content is appropriate (and isn’t) to share
  • What to do when things do go bad. Which brings us to…

2. Have a triage plan in place. 

We all know what happens when things go well. But what do you do when things don’t go as planned? Not every situation needs a public response, but every situation needs to be assessed. Your challenge is reacting appropriately when it does. Assuming you have a decent listening strategy in place, how are you prepared for these situations when they arise?

  • Someone complains about your brand, products, employees or customer service
  • Someone misappropriates the hashtag you’ve chosen for your big marketing campaign
  • An employee tweets confidential information like financial results
  • For publicly-held companies like Softchoice, a shareholder tweets their frustrations with stock performance

If you don’t have a plan in triage plan in place, create one. Involve all the departments/resources necessary for appropriate action. HR, Legal, Finance, IR, Corporate Communications, Marketing, IT – all may need to be involved. Determining who does whatwhen and how during a social media crisis is critical. Check out this post by Jeremiah Owyang for more on the topic of triage readiness in the enterprise space. It includes 10 attributes of successful  social media workflow you are free to use.

3. Isolate your accounts

I’m a big fan of social media tools like Hootsuite. Among their benefits, they make it really easy to manage and broadcast to multiple Twitter accounts at once, from one unified dashboard. The trick with these tools is that a lot of people connect their personal accounts to these platforms too. For their part, HootSuite does prompt users with a special window before they publish to designated, high-profile accounts.

Another really simple way to minimize the chances of sending the wrong tweet from the wrong account is using one tool/platform for personal, and one for work. For example, I only use Hootsuite for corporate Twitter accounts on my PC and iPhone. I isolate my personal accounts, and use other tools for personal tweets. (TweetBot on the iPhone is my fav). While this might seem obvious to some, forcing yourself to think about which app or site you’re using just might be the one thing that prevents you from inadvertently tweeting from the wrong account.

4. React – don’t over react

In response to the “storm” of attention they’ve received, Vaughan has shut down their account. While that’s one reaction, I think it was a mistake. In these situations, organizations should look to brands like Kitchenaid as a role model. During the 2012 Presidential debate, an inappropriate tweet was sent from the @KitchenAidUSA, that was obviously meant to come from a personal account. The brand quickly deleted the tweet, responded by apologizing, and the Brand Manager immediately took responsibility while making herself available to the media. Attention quickly passed, and they turned what could have snowballed into a national outrage into a best-practice example. For a great breakdown and analysis, check out this post.

Did they over-react by shutting the account down? Time will tell. My sense is their account will come back online – once the snow (and media) storm blows over.

Special thanks to @danisonfire for the use of the wicked image, and to @dubzeebass for inspiring the post.

About Joel Marans

Joel loves making people and organizations look, sound and feel great through creative uses of technology. When he's not fulfilling duties as a proud papa & husband, he leads brand and communications at Softchoice, one of the largest IT service & solution providers in North America.

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