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Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self-Destructive Tweets

Twit happens.

As more and more companies ramp up their Twitter presence, the likelihood that something off-message will slip by the digital goalie goes up considerably. The question is not whether your company will have to deal with self-destructive corporate Tweets, but what kind of tweet it will be, and by whom.

There are 3 types of corporate tweets that cause heartburn (or worse):

Twit Happens #1 – Wrong Pipe

These increasingly common Twitter mistakes occur when the administrator of the corporate Twitter account inadvertently sends a tweet from the company instead of from that person’s individual Twitter handle. As usage of tools like CoTweet (client) and Hootsuite soar, this becomes an ever-more-likely scenario.

It’s happened to me, as my awesome assistant Jess Ostroff once accidentally yelled at a company from my Twitter account instead of her own.

Most famously, this occurred about 6 weeks ago with the American Red Cross corporate Twitter account, when one of their employees sent out this beauty (extra credit in my book for being a Dogfish Head beer lover):

twit happens Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self Destructive Tweets

Appropriate Response: Because the “wrong pipe” mistake is always that – simply an account screw-up – reaction and mitigation should be rational and reasonable. The American Red Cross handled it beautifully with humor and grace:

redcross Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self Destructive TweetsNobody was fired, but I suspect there was a reminder about being careful with corporate Tweets. The American Red Cross has been widely lauded for their deftness in this situation. Read a great post on Tactical Philanthropy from their social media manager Wendy Harman, who gives an intriguing blow-by-blow.

(Note that I LOVE the advice from Beth Kanter in her post on Twitter drama. She recommends that employees pushing out corporate Tweets use different software for personal vs. professional accounts, to eliminate the chance of “Wrong Pipe” Twitter mistakes.)

Twit Happens #2 – Tone Deaf

These types of Twitter mistakes are a bit more disconcerting, as you get into questions of appropriateness and poor listening. The Tone Deaf error occurs when the official corporate Twitter account (or personal account of a high-ranking officer) throws up an air ball of a tweet that is outside customary social and societal norms.

Of course the most famous recent example of Tone Deaf twitter self-destruction was Kenneth Cole’s ridiculous linkage of Egyptian freedom riots with his new Spring collection:
Kenneth Cole s Egypt Tweet  Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self Destructive Tweets

Another cringe-worthy one was @UnitedAirlines tweeting the lyrics to the theme song of Frasier after a customer tweeted “Thanks to @unitedairlines I can finally watch that Frasier episode I missed in 1994.” The company entirely missed the sarcasm and frustration of the customer, which is bewildering because she’d sent 5 angry tweets within one minute.

Appropriate Response: Well, Kenneth Cole isn’t going to fire himself, and the “Tone Deaf” error is usually void of malicious intent. It’s a misunderstanding and/or misreading of the cultural tea leaves. These kind of Twitter mistakes become more and more common in real-time business as the pace forces companies to use monitoring software that can miss sarcasm and satire.

The answer in this scenario is the Three A’s: Acknowledge, Apologize, Authenticity

As quickly as possible, realize you screwed up; own your Twitter mistakes; and mean it when you say “we’re sorry.” Both Kenneth Cole and United Airlines played the Three A’s recovery pretty well:

Kenneth Cole s apology Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self Destructive Tweets

United Airlines apology Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self Destructive Tweets

Twit Happens #3 – TMI

This is where it gets sticky, because you’re dealing with judgment and the convergence between personal and professional selves. This is where people misplace the filter between mind and keyboard, or have a different understanding than their employer about what should be filtered.

The most famous example of the “TMI” mishap was in 2009 by former Ketchum executive James Andrews, who fired off this gem on the way to visit his client FedEx:

keyinfluencertweet 300x38 Corporate Twitter Account Train Wreck! The 3 Types of Self Destructive Tweets

(Note that Andrews’ Twitter handle of @KeyInfluencer is evidence either of sly, self-referential humor – or astounding douchebaggery)

A more recent occurrence was from my friend April Riggs, formerly the community manager for Sweet Leaf Tea. (April and Sweet Leaf were profiled in my book The NOW Revolution)

She used to go by the Twitter handle of @SweetLeafApril and mixed personal musings with customer service and community advocacy. She proudly displays her passion for music, cycling, and having a good time and attracted a following of 4,000+ on Twitter.

A few weeks ago, she was out in Austin at an event series called “Drunk Dial Party” and tweeted:

“Drunk Dial Party fail. Got stood up but made out w/by dude @SailorLegs stood up. Trade-off?”

Appropriate Response: Typically, it’s censure or worse. It’s a tricky situation for the company, because the “TMI” transgression always comes from a personal account, rather than the official corporate Twitter account. So, does the company send a tweet from the main account, apologizing for something said on an employee account that may have little cross-over audience? In most cases, no.

Ketchum apologized via a statement only after the FedEx dust-up became big news around ad industry water coolers. Andrews was reprimanded, and eventually left to start his own firm.

Sweet Leaf Tea (owned by Nestle) has never publicly mentioned April’s tweet. She was suspended and then terminated. The company deleted the entire @SweetLeafApril account.

What do you think of the 3 self-destructive types of corporate tweets and the appropriate punishments for each? Is termination justified? What would you do in your company?

  • http://www.tfwco.com Trish Fischer

    Twit happens. Love it. Thing is, it always has. I remember an incident long before Twitter that I witnessed at work during the beginning of my career at a small NYC ad agency. A popular beautiful young account exec (she would be a community manager today for sure) made two comments in the ladies room one day that were mildly disparaging of our boss (president of the company). Unfortunately our boss was in one of the stalls when this person said these things about her. The popular beautiful young account exec was fired before the end of the day. I was sad to see her go (she was very good at her job), but I did not feel sorry for her. She should have been more responsible. I feel exactly the same way about the twits who tweet to the wrong account. It’s your job. Do it right or you won’t be doing it anymore. It’s not rocket science. It’s called being responsible and being accountable for your actions and mistakes. Every company will determine their level of tolerance for such ineptitude.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      My takeaway here is that there needs to be a rule. Either everyone in the bathroom is required to make noise, or everyone in the bathroom is required to stay silent!

      • http://twitter.com/bmcraec Bruce M Campbell

        Speaking or re-reading your posts before you send them…

    • http://twitter.com/drivethrupoet KimB

      There is a difference between ineptitude and being human. An executive that fires an effective and popular employee over something heard in a bathroom stall is not only spineless, but will eventually fall on their own sword.

  • http://www.youintegrate.com Kneale Mann

    Cole won’t fire himself, but Aflac is looking for a new voice for the duck. Each situation is different. As your Now Revolution co-author Amber Naslund has often pointed out – when we ask companies to experiment and examine the digital channels, we can’t yell #fail the moment there is a misstep. I completely agree with the three A’s because the three D’s – deny, disregard, deflect will only make things worse.

    In these and many other instances, there is an internal issue not a social media issue. You wouldn’t let someone talk to a customer face-to-face like some do online so that is a discussion you need to have with your stakeholders. They must understand that as it is pointed on in the U.S. Air Force digital engagement policy and guidelines – you are always on the record and you always represent the company.

    We are still in our online infancy. Less than 30% of the planet is even online so we have a long way to go. We will make mistakes and fix them and make more. And we will get more accomplished if we understand none of us have all the answers and the downside of experimentation is these types of instances. Let’s also celebrate that yesterday, millions of connections went well.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Fantastic comment Kneale. Thanks very much. Indeed, social media and Twitter don’t change the fundamentals of decency and judgement. It just makes it more instantaneous. As we say in The NOW Revolution, it’s entirely possible that you have a hiring problem, not a social media problem.

      • http://twitter.com/bmcraec Bruce M Campbell

        Chiming in with a restatement of something that passed by on the Twitters this morning: “I have failed three times” sounds a lot different than “I am a failure”. Too little effort at something new will not prove that the new thing is worthless. There is a lot of scuttlebutt recently about Social Media failing, where little of the “failure” is given context. Bottom line for me: if you think SocMed is pointless, you probably don’t use it well.

  • Rbagnall

    I manage social media accounts for several clients as well as my personal one. My rule is NEVER tweet ANYTHING that you would not want to see on a billboard in Times Square. And in the digital world, every online interaction can end up there!

    Ralph Bagnall

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Absolutely. Same with email, right?

      • Michael Mathews

        I have been deleting email drafts more often lately. I often find myself asking what good can come from sending this note. If I can’t think of any, I delete it.

    • http://twitter.com/saving4someday Sara

      Ralph, excellent filter! When I was in B-School my ethics professor suggested we think twice about what we’re about to do and then think a third time about how the choice would play out if picked up by WSJ. That was ‘back in the day’ when dial up and brick mobile phones were all the rage. But, it holds true today. Only, as you say, WSJ is now replaced by billboard in Times Square.

      It’s like that DIY rule – measure twice, cut once.

  • http://twitter.com/Chris_Eh_Young Chris Eh Young

    It’s a fine line when you manage multiple accounts. There are quite a few major accounts out there that people have no idea are managed by social media management firms.

    In my business I have always used different software for my personal and business accounts. It’s the only way to stay safe. I know that i’ve ranted, vented, and been somewhat off kilter with a few of my tweets. That’s who I am, not who my clients are. I think this is where there definitely needs to be separation between business and personal accounts. It’s risky to hedge all your bets on one community manager when they could leave and take their following at any time.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Excellent point Chris. Having your tweets outsourced to a third party ups the risk factor and can also make the apology cycle time longer. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done, but I’m not a huge fan in general of outsourcing your corporate voice, and Twitter certainly is the real-time manifestation of that voice in many circumstances.

      Conversely, I suppose it’s risky to build authority around a community manager, but no more so that having a star sales rep, and we’ve been doing that for 100 years.

      • http://twitter.com/ghaff Gordon Haff

        That’s a good point about community managers and sales reps. I think there’s sometimes a disconnect in that companies often seem to want all the “social media goodness”–authenticity, informal engagement, and so forth–but they want it in the context of a controlled brand that, among other things, isn’t tied to one individual who can do things like express opinions that are not in line with the party line or, for that matter, just leave.

      • http://twitter.com/ghaff Gordon Haff

        That’s a good point about community managers and sales reps. I think there’s sometimes a disconnect in that companies often seem to want all the “social media goodness”–authenticity, informal engagement, and so forth–but they want it in the context of a controlled brand that, among other things, isn’t tied to one individual who can do things like express opinions that are not in line with the party line or, for that matter, just leave.

  • http://theproseandthepassion.wordpress.com Chris Moody

    Gap have made a similar sort of gaffe this week on their Facebook page. Beneath a picture of some gun-toting Libyan rebels, one of whom is wearing a Gap sweatshirt, they’ve commented

    “Check this out. The closest Gap store is miles away. We still can’t figure out how this sweatshirt ended up in Gadhafi’s palace. Theories?”

    It was posted over the last weekend and attracted around 140 comments – mostly negative – by the time I saw it on Monday morning (UK time). By the next morning it had disappeared, but now it’s reappeared, both in its original form, and in a doctored form – with the wording of the post tweaked and all the negative comments deleted.

    It’s as if they decided to take it down, but then put it back in a doctored form, and then had a change of heart and reposted the whole thing. One thing is stunning by its absence – there’s been no comment of any kind from anyone at Gap.

    You’d have thought they might have learned something from the debacle of their new (ahem) logo on social media recently…

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Wow. I didn’t see that one. Those guys are hell bent on destruction, aren’t they?

  • http://twitter.com/brightmatrix Mike Zavarello

    Jay,

    Lots of great wisdom (and examples) in this post!

    The “separation of duties” method is a great solution … I’ve fired off a tweet to the wrong account once before (in Hootsuite), but thankfully it was a reply only and thoroughly innocuous. Since I do have the keys to both personal and corporate accounts, I always function under the assumption that anything I post is representative of my employer, whether I publicly state it on my personal account or not. That said, pausing and double-checking are invaluable. So is scheduling them ahead of time; a little extra time to review and edit never hurts, in my opinion.

    How to handle errant tweets is another matter entirely, and as Kneale Mann stated in these comments, we’re still in new territory here. That’s going to depend entirely on the corporate culture, of course, but we do need the forgiveness to fail forward. Nailing down employee guidelines for social media use to help interpret existing HR policies in the social space can help clear up what happens to folks in these situations. I’m currently working with others at my office to help define these without being overbearing or too legalese to understand.

    Again, thanks for another outstanding post. You and Amber are both on a roll today. :-)

    All the best,

    Mike

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Mike. Having social media guidelines definitely helps provide boundaries. Although twit happens regardless. The same way that having telephone and email policies won’t prevent people from doing boneheaded things in those media.

      • http://twitter.com/brightmatrix Mike Zavarello

        Interestingly enough, Hootsuite just announced a new feature that should help prevent misfires on Twitter: http://blog.hootsuite.com/secure-profiles/. Looks like it’s only part of their $1499/month Enterprise package at the moment. I hope it trickles down to smaller plans … I can see this being a benefit to everyone.

        • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

          Yes indeed. Thanks Mike. I meant to add that into the post, and forgot. I appreciate you bringing it up. Another great feature from Hootsuite.

  • Erica Allison

    Love “Twit Happens”. As someone who manages multiple client accounts, I know all too well how it feels to misfire. It is usually an errant RT of a post that I personally love, but that my client would likely never read. Not devastating, but a slippery slope indeed. I’m switching to 2 different management tools today: 1 for me and 1 for my client accounts. Retraining me to remember? We’ll see.

    I also echo what Kneale Mann brought up below: deny, disregard and deflect only make things worse. Own up to the mistake, fix it immediately, and use the mistake as an educational opportunity for either your company or for your staff. Doing all of that will enhance the authenticity of the account and/or brand.

    I think that Twitter (and most all SM) sets us up with a false sense of reality. We say things we might not normally say in person, protected behind the veil of our Twitter handle and our avatar. I think as representatives of a company or our clients, we should always follow the guideline that you are always on the record and you always represent the company. And remember that we’re also human (thank goodness) and when a mistake occurs, take human action and do something about it!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Protection from behind the avatar is absolutely a reality, although I see it more on blogs and blog comments than I do on Twitter. It’s easy to be a tough guy from a keyboard. Less so on the phone or face to face.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    @keyinfluencer is actually really good people.. the innovators in social media have to break the ground and set the limits… so they make mistakes.. like not using there real name since 1994 online.

  • http://steveplunkett.com @steveplunkett

    @keyinfluencer is actually really good people.. the innovators in social media have to break the ground and set the limits… so they make mistakes.. like not using there real name since 1994 online.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Glad to hear it. Not trying to be hard on him, and I thought his tweet was actually not THAT bad. The handle cracks me up though.

  • Anonymous

    Great article & some great comments, the Red Cross example is one of the best — it’s pretty hard, and not advisable, to get into details when you make a mistake, because most of the people “listening” won’t have access or may not take the time to understand the full context.

    Most of the time the best strategy is a “woops that was dumb” that acknowledges the situation without escalating it.

  • Anonymous

    Great article & some great comments, the Red Cross example is one of the best — it’s pretty hard, and not advisable, to get into details when you make a mistake, because most of the people “listening” won’t have access or may not take the time to understand the full context.

    Most of the time the best strategy is a “woops that was dumb” that acknowledges the situation without escalating it.

  • http://twitter.com/adownie adownie

    I find this to be an insanely delicate balancing act. I got dinged last year for making a comment about a group in town for a convention. Said groups organizers happened to be a customer. There wasn’t a big kerfuffle but it certainly got me to thinking…

    The issue, as I see it, is one of brand contention. Many companies hire people because of their “personal brand”, but if that personal brand also includes followers that don’t follow them for professional reasons (friends, family, people who find them funny) then there is instant conflict. If a company monitors the twitter musings of their people, won’t that cause them to self-censor and thereby negatively impact their brand? Or if those people regularly make comments around off-color topics while also tweeting about the company, that isn’t good either.

    I don’t know if the solution is to have multiple accounts like we have work and private email, I tried that and it was kind of a hassle thinking about each tweet and determining which accounts to send it on. Also, all my friends complained about following two of me…

    It’s a vicious circle that I think has a lot more rough patches ahead. With companies starting to monitor personal social media channels and demanding more involvement in their social workforce’s network, there will only be more conflicts. I am waiting for the day when the first company starts telling employees they cannot have followers from competitors or engage direct or indirect competitors in social conversation. That will be interesting :-)

    Great post though, I believe we all need to do a lot of thinking and corporate communication soul-searching in the immediate future before we come up with a happy middle ground. I know one thing though, it’s going to be a fun ride getting there.

  • http://www.joemanna.com/blog/ Joseph Manna

    Good examples, Jay. Thanks for sharing.

    Personally, I think termination is a bit much for the social media workforce who help maintain the intraday updates of brands. Acknowledgment, apologies and action is what’s necessary.

    Look at this way, if a brand posts a “drunk-dial” type of tweet, it shows there’s a person running it. Responsibly? No. Nevertheless, a person and that the account isn’t just a means to post updates about the products, services and any sales that are going on.

    I’m an optimist, I suppose.

    As far as Kenneth Cole was concerned, he only apologized when it caused a great deal of negative reaction. Not too authentic or genuine by my account. But, hey, he still got attention and *tried* to add humor to a serious subject. I tend to appreciate dry humor more than the rest, so I got the joke, but trust me when I say I am not his key audience. :)

    The Red Cross example you highlighted is the most appropriate response given the situation. I thought it was funny, actionable and actually respectful of their audience. A stern talking-to to their social media team probably will prevent it from happening again.

    ~Joe

  • http://twitter.com/LeoWid Leon Widrich

    Hi Jay, sorry I have deprived you of comments lately, things are just getting crazy over at Buffer.

    This post yet again reassured me I have to make it my first priority to come here each day! Really great stuff, these 3 mistakes teach me a lot on how to approach things in the future. What’s more important though is your description on how to deal with these things appropriately.

    Personally, I believe punishment is never a good option to deal with such occurences in a company. At least not in the first instance. Giving people another chance alongside guidance on how to make it better in the future is a more viable route in my view.

    Thanks for yet another great post, throwing it in the Buffer as we speak :).

  • http://moderncopystudio.com Vince

    It’s easy to apologize for an honest mistake and difficult to understand or apologize for character flaws. Everyone can type something that doesn’t come off as anticipated or use poor judgment at times.

    Using different software can limit mistakes but most people, whether under a corporate or personal identity, will have something to apologize for over the course of time. I think people respect apologies and admissions of a mistake.

    However, if you expose that fact that you are a racist, insensitive to the serious plight of others, live your life with low ethical standards or you’re just mean, people might realize that they just don’t like you. No apology fixes those issues.

    I guess that is similar to the point in your book that it could be a hiring problem and not a social media problem.

  • http://pulseofcentralflorida.com Ashley K. Edwards

    I really enjoyed reading this. I manage several company Twitter accounts (as well as FB profiles), and can identify with the situation that occurred with Red Cross. I think they handled it very well.

    I’m not familiar with the “@keyinfluencer” Tweet/situation, but he got fired over THAT? Seems a bit extreme; of course, back in 2009 alot of people were still trying to figure out the relevance of Twitter, so I suppose I could actually see that happening.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      To be clear, I do not believe @keyinfluencer was fired over that Tweet. He was reprimanded, and later left the firm on his own (as I understand it).

  • http://austinstf.tumblr.com slavetofashion

    This post is awesome! I don’t think a lot of companies know what can (and will!) go wrong in the big bad world of social media. This is a very succinct explanation of what can happen and how to move forward from it. For the most part, we are still flying by the seat of our pants when it comes to engaging and communicating with customers online. The only way to learn right now is trial and error- there’s no manual. However, it’s super important not to overreact. Things are going to happen sometimes that are out of a company’s control and they may not like the results. The idea is to own it, accept it, say your sorry, not dwell on it, and move forward.

  • http://twitter.com/dschulenberg Dara Schulenberg

    Great lessons from the trenches as ever. In response to questioning if termination is appropriate, I would answer the question by reviewing the consequences of a similar ‘error’ in another channel. Chances are few would warrant termination IMHO.

    What would our business landscape look like if every corporate citizen were fired for an off-the-cuff statement that was off target or even mildly offensive? Chaos I say.

    It continues to astound me that people are struggling the most with the social aspect of social media. When exactly did being human become so hard for us?

  • Joel

    Social media’s effect on risk management is definitely something all companies are going to have to acknowledge. I would rank your examples with Red Cross as having done the best to deal with their mishap, and Sweet Leaf Tea as the Bungler’s Award winner.

  • http://jivaldi.com Marketing Gal

    I agree with the 3 As theory. If you make a mistake ( and we all do) own it. Dont make excuses or point fingers….and next time, think BEFORE you type.

  • http://twitter.com/saving4someday Sara

    Jay, excellent overview. We all make mistakes. That’s just called being human. The problem is when personal becomes brand and the brand image takes a hit (real or perceived).

    I believe that all company Social Media groups/people should have contingency planning for the inevitable mistweet.

    The most recent huge tweet-blunder had to do with GM and it not only got someone fired, the entire agency lost the account and many people will end up losing their job. Proof that the ramifications are often much more far-reaching than anticipated.

  • Katie Van Domelen

    Awesome article! Great to read such a straightforward summary of what happened and what should be done on the brand side to recover.

    I *do* have to step in to point out that in the current CoTweet Enterprise workgroup set up it’s much less likely that you would have a mix between professional and personal accounts in the same app – because everyone in the workgroup shares accounts people rarely add their own personal accounts. We see that our clients generally have two different social apps on their phone, CoTweet for business and their app of choice for personal use, that way they determine the voice they’ll be using before they even get close to a “send” button. I think that’s why we’re rarely involved in those types of snafus. :)

    But regardless of if you use CoTweet or not I would recommend using completely separate apps on your phone for business vs. personal use. That way when you go to tweet something personal you open the one app and have no potential to accidentally tweet it to a brand account. It seems these mistakes are more likely to happen from the phone interface, probably because you’re moving faster and screen visibility is smaller.

    But thanks again for the article – it seems people generally like to jump all over a story like this in a “laugh and point” type way, it’s really nice to see a perspective on preventing or recovering instead!

    – Katie Van Domelen
    Social Media Consultant, ExactTarget/CoTweet
    @katie_cotweet

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Katie. I appreciate the comment, and good point about CoTweet work groups.

  • Anonymous

    Sigh. I still feel so embarrassed about that accidental tweet. Of course, I was so frustrated at the time that I didn’t take the time to breathe and think about what I was doing. It’s been a lesson to me in the long run that I think ties into the Wrong Pipe and the TMI categories. And it’s made me feel a little better knowing that it happens all the time. In the end, I did receive much better customer support after putting that out there, but there were a few moments there that I thought my life was ruined! I thought you handled it swimmingly, Jay, as you made a mention of your lack of visits to the gym!

    Thank you for not firing me :)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      But look, now you gave me something to write about. We’re even!

      • Anonymous

        Oh yeah, that was my plan all along hehe.

  • http://www.idoinspire.com Jody Urquhart

    Termination seems radical. Seem like honest mistakes.

  • http://www.trafficservicestps.blogspot.com/ Tim Burrows

    Great post Jay.
    I have committed a couple of those train wrecks myself. Thankfully, I have always posted from my accounts with the thought, “Would I say this in front of my boss.” In my field the risk goes beyond damaging a personal reputation or embarrassing a corporate image.
    Lawsuits, damaging criminal proceedings, policy contravention, procedural misconduct…the list goes on.
    Understanding the simple philosophy of what happens on social media is forever is a great governing factor to follow.

  • http://twitter.com/stockwellapril April Stockwell

    I personally have posted to my corporate account something that was intended for personal. And I nearly had a heart attack and deleted it within 30 seconds of posting it when I realized what happened. Now, I find myself checking before, during and after posting something on Twitter. It’s too easy a mistake when using a program like TweetDeck.
    The Sweet Leaf Tea situation, in my eyes, is the worst possible way to handle such a situation. I can’t even see how someone could be fired for that as it wasn’t as bad as making light of the situation in Egypt. But the worst move was when they deleted her account with no comment or reason. I know April and I know she built Sweet Leaf’s social media presence and to see all that work deleted and all those customer connections lost has to be more painful than just being fired for such a minor mistake.

  • Rtomsaxton

    Really shows what to be aware of when posting information. Great article

  • Allison Peacock

    Great, great post, Jay! I try to live by the 3 A’s and admire others, especially companies, who are able to respond this way. And if it’s done with humor my esteem is even higher. Being able to laugh at oneself is a sign of confidence. I actually think far less of companies that can’t embrace these values.

    In the case of Ms. Riggs I think Sweet Leaf (Nestle) threw the baby out with the bath water. April’s following was devoted. When they pulled the plug on her community of thousands – myself among them – I had no reason to continue to effortlessly promote the brand the way I did naturally as a member of her posse. Neither do I continue to go out of my way to buy the product the way I used to.

    Yes, termination is pretty radical when even the most powerful, seasoned business people make mistakes like this eventually. For every case you’ve cited I can think of a handful of other high-profile gaffes. We’re all human and I think this is one of the powerful lessons of the transparency that social media has inspired both in our lives and in our corporate cultures.

    Bravo, Red Cross and United Airlines! Go directly to jail and do not pass “Go,” Sweet Leaf.

  • Beth Kanter

    great post, great advice. But the best ever wrong pipe error was from the London Theatre tweeting the c-word – http://www.bethkanter.org/mistake/

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks so much Beth. That IS a great example!

  • http://twitter.com/g_ack Greg Ackerman

    I read most of the comments below. Wow! What is great about this post is the discussion it precipitated. It’s also reassuring the majority of the comments here do not support Sweet Leaf Tea’s termination of April Riggs [Full disclosure: April is a friend and social media peer].

    In regards to Sweet Leaf, I agree with Allison Peacock and April Stockwell. Where Sweet Leaf Tea (and Nestle) failed here is neglecting to weigh any negative impact of the tweet against the social good will and community fostered by April’s love and support of the brand, her personality (that’s why they hired her) and the 99% of her tweets that WERE appropriate, effective and gained customers for Sweet Leaf.

    I know. I became a passionate fan of SLT after following April on Twitter. What’s more, I LEARNED a lot about how to tweet for a business from April’s example. Many, including Cathy Benevides pointed out we are in online and social media infancy now. There IS no manual for how to use social media effectively. We are still learning via trial and error as the case studies illustrate. SLT and Nestle should at minimum realize their gaffe and resolve not to overreact to a single incident. Prudence should be rule of social media employee AND the employer. Unfortunatley, SLT is learning that lesson as we comment.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks for the terrific comment Greg. The fact that we don’t have a manual is what makes this business fascinating. It’s being codified in real-time, and that chance doesn’t come around often.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks for the terrific comment Greg. The fact that we don’t have a manual is what makes this business fascinating. It’s being codified in real-time, and that chance doesn’t come around often.

  • Clb

    6 months ago, I came to help a healthcare company in Tampa Bay with their online reputation problem. Their FB page, controlled by the company, had negative complaints–each provoking and trashing the company. Using the criteria on Jay’s #2 strategy, the fan base increased 350% in only 3 months, and with creation of targeted content, it is rare to see people unsatisfied.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pete-Post/100001432068873 Pete Post

    Yikes! I think it really depends on what’s said. Many times it’s something than can easily be fixed or apologized for. I’ve worked with several clients that had a persona handling their tweets and had a crossover malfunction. Apologies, sincerity and a little finger-crossing can usually diffuse most situations. As far as “punishments” go…I believe if something is an accident, it shouldn’t be a death sentence. If it’s a chronic Britney Spears (Oops, I did it again), then I can see steps being in place to let the individual go. I use a similar “live by” as Ralph. Not only to protect my clients but myself/business as well. With more and more people doing research before hiring, that information does have the ability to rear its ugly head. I’d rather keep my personal life personal and share things I wouldn’t mind my kids seeing.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks for the terrific comment Pete. I love your Britney analogy!

  • Stallarlufrano

    Twitter is just another one of the corporate tools where the rules are going to have to be set for the lowest common denominator. Most people have enough self awareness and common sense to Twitter responsibly while on the clock. There are the few people who will do things so head-scratchingly dumb that the corporate usage of the medium will have to be carefully monitored, not to mention have extensive policies written for to attempt to curb such thumb induced mistakes.

  • http://www.mikemccready.ca/blog/ Mike McCready

    I’ve done the Twit Happens #1 before. Luckily it was just a tweet showing a cake my wife decorated. I realized the slip-up immediately and just deleted the rogue tweet. I know take a double-take when posting from Hootsuite to ensure the right account is selected.

  • Mark Cohen

    Great article!

    First, it is extremely important for us to not commit a wrong pipe violation because, if the tweet is inappropriate, the person embarrasses their company. Unless it is handled quickly, this problem “has legs.”

    Secondly, tone deaf violations are the most difficult to avoid because, by definition, the violator does not realize that he or she has made an inappropriate tweet. It is impossible to fully avoid, but easy to solve if the individual apologizes immediately and consults close advisers in the future.

    Finally, the TMI violation is easily avoided so long as you make a pact with yourself to not tweet about personal matters.

    Mark Cohen
    markdanielcohen.wordpress.com
    mark.cohen580@gmail.com

  • fb1234

    The Red Cross looks like a pretty cool organization for their handling of this. Good for them.

    Francis Barragan

  • http://www.spaceheaterstudios.com/article_marketing/ Article Marketing

    The Red Cross incident was humorous and seems more excusable since it was done by honest mistake and the company recovered gracefully. The Kenneth Cole tweet, however, is harder to excuse because someone genuinely thought it was an okay thing to say. A good rule of thumb, for me, is to remember that I should only post things online that I would actually say to the person face-to-face. If I feel a need to vent through some sort of digital message, I know I probably shouldn’t say it.

  • http://www.publicrelationsprincess.com Claire

    Great post. I have devised a solution for avoiding tweeting from the wrong account. I use two separate internet browsers, one for me and one for my clients.

  • letstalkandchat

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out: http://www.mikelmurphy.com/easy-info-product-site-system/

  • paulester17

    Otherwise known as: common sense.