How to Handle a Twitter Fiasco

How to Handle a Twitter Fiasco
By Amy Jo Martin

Do you think before you tweet? If not, you should. Errant tweets and Twitter scandals are very common today, yet most of them can be prevented with social media education.Social communication outlets have allowed us to be more connected than ever. Outlets such as Twitter are more like the telephone and less like the TV. Through Twitter, companies and business leaders can expose the humans behind the brand and in doing so, build a loyal following that millions of marketing dollars could never build. Humans connect with humans, not logos.

With this level of unprecedented transparency and low-barrier access to celebrities, business leaders, and politicians, mistakes and misunderstandings are inevitable.  No one is perfect. Humans make mistakes. Our mouths, or thumbs rather, can quickly turn into our biggest liability. Once a tweet is sent, it can’t be deleted from the Twitterverse. How can brands handle a 140-character slip-up? One of two ways.

Own it, or deny it.

Anthony Weiner’s inappropriate tweets and photos landed him in a world of trouble. He denied them, blamed hackers for compromising his account, and even suggested that they could have been his photos, but that those photos had been altered. Days later, he admitted to his role in “Weinergate” and eventually resigned from his positionas Congressman. Honesty goes a long way with people. Had Representative Weiner openly admitted his mistake and then asked for the forgiveness of his family and constituents, it’s possible that he could still be part of the U.S. Congress.Surprisingly, mistakes can be flipped into something positive, if the situation is handled appropriately. Dana White, President of the UFC, famously tweeted out his phone number thinking he was sending his number via direct message. Within minutes millions of people had his number. Instead of turning off his Twitter account and riding out the storm, he acknowledged his mistake and answered as many calls as he could. As a result, headlines were made, fans were engaged like never before, and a dedicated community based on authentic interactions was created. Then, he set up an actual ‘fan phone’ to give fans what they wanted—access to him.

Progressive Insurance recently missed an opportunity to take a negative situation and turn it into a brand-building opportunity. In August 2012, a New York comedian, Matt Fischer, posted an article on Tumblr titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court.” His post accused the insurance giant of providing legal counsel to the underinsured defendant responsible for killing his sister, Katie, in 2010, in an attempt to avoid paying the difference between her policy and his. Matt tweeted his post and included Progressive’s Twitter handle. Others saw and retweeted. By the end of the day, thousands of people had mentioned Progressive insurance and contacted them asking for a statement. Progressive’s auto-tweet robot kicked in and countless people received the same canned massage from Progressive. Their tweet read, “This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fischer and his family for the pain they’ve had to endure.” Once the news of the auto-tweets surfaced, Progressive shut down their Twitlong account. Progressive’s use of impersonal auto-tweets and subsequent shutting down of their account angered consumers. Blatant insincerity and lack of authenticity are why Progressive received so much criticism. Complicated legal details of the case aside, if Progressive had interacted with their concerned Twitter and Facebook followers in a real, human way, their followers might have been much more understanding of Progressive’s side of the story.

The list of Twitter transgressors grows longer each day, from celebs like Perez Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and John Mayer, who chose to either deny what was tweeted, or shut down their accounts completely. Twitter closets have transparent doors, and simply ignoring the situation only worsens it. In some situations, no tweet can be just as harmful as a bad tweet.

With proper social media training, I believe 90% of the corporate social media crisis communications situations I’ve witnessed over the past five years could have been prevented. It’s all about genuine connection and education. If an individual or a brand has taken the time to proactively build a loyal Twitter following, by offering value and being authentic, media-worthy mistakes are much easier to overcome. With loyalty comes trust and forgiveness. No one expects perfection. People are more likely to trust you after they have seen you fail and make amends. So when a mistake is made, own up to it, and move on. Your followers will follow suit.

Amy Jo Martin, founder and CEO of Digital Royalty and Digital Royalty University, teaches brands, corporations and individuals how to measure and monetize their digital universe. She just published her first book this month, Renegades Write the Rules. Follow her on Twitter @AmyJoMartin.