Seeing one of your posts go viral on Facebook or Twitter is usually a good thing – after all, when you’re promoting something, you want to reach as many people as possible. Unfortunately, as some individuals and companies have discovered, the shareable nature of social media can be a double-edged sword; a poorly timed post or accidental tweet can may be seen and shared by thousands of people within a few minutes, casting your brand in a negative light. When something like this happens, you can delete the tweet but you can’t unring the bell — ignoring the social media buzz will only make things worse. Depending on the severity of your misstep, the way you handle the situation can bring you customer goodwill, or at the very least, mitigate the damage done.
Apologize Quickly. On Twitter, PR failures are often the result of a tone-deaf attempt to cash in on a trending topic — see Kenneth Cole’s infamous Cairo tweet, or CelebBoutique’s tweet that tried to capitalize on the #Aurora trending topic right after the Colorado theater shooting. Both tweets were quickly retweeted and picked up by the media, provoking an outraged response from Twitter users worldwide.
The way the companies followed up didn’t do much to improve matters; @KennethColePrd followed up with a statement that fell short of actually apologizing (although a full apology followed later), while @CelebBoutique appeared to be truly sorry — an hour and a half after the tweet had gone viral.
The takeaway? Be quick, be sincere, and take ownership of the mistake. In social media, an hour is an eternity; monitor the reaction to your posts and take action the moment you see it turning negative. Acknowledging the mistake is a great start, but it’s not enough on its own. Apologize immediately and sincerely, and admit that you’ve made a mistake.
Have a Sense of Humor. Not all situations require a hand-wringing apology; sometimes the best thing you can do is just laugh it off. When a Red Cross employee accidentally tweeted “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd” from the official account instead of her personal account, the organization could have overreacted by issuing a too-formal apology. Instead, they simply deleted the tweet and kept their response lighthearted:
The brewery mentioned in the original tweet, Dogfish Head, picked up on it and encouraged their followers to go out and donate to the Red Cross, using the hashtag #gettngslizzerd.
Maintaining a sense of humor helped the Red Cross turn what could have been viewed as a #PRfail into a definite win, and even resulted in an increase in fundraising. If the situation is merely embarrassing, rather than catastrophic, sometimes it’s best to just acknowledge it and poke a little fun at yourself before moving on.
Prevention is Key. Ben Franklin once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, meaning that it’s a lot better (and easier) to prevent something from happening in the first place than to try and fix it afterward. This is something @KitchenAidUSA, the official twitter account for the KitchenAid housewares brand, recently learned the hard way. During the October 4th presidential debate, the brand’s 24,000 followers were surprised to see a tweet joking that “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.” The tweet was sent in error by a staffer using a Twitter client to switch between the corporate account and a personal account. KitchenAid quickly deleted the tweet and issued an explanation and apology, but it had already been read and retweeted by thousands.
The lesson to be learned here? A few minutes of forethought can save you hours of damage control. Before jumping on a trending topic, research it and find out if it’s something you really want to be associated with. And never keep your personal account signed into the same social media app or desktop client that you use to manage your brand. Although it is undoubtedly convenient, you run the risk of sending your message to the wrong audience. With multiple options to choose from, it’s easier — and safer — to dedicate separate programs to managing your professional and personal social media accounts.
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