Michelle Sullivan Communications

Danger! Twitter! (or lessons learned from PR gaffes)

Is Twitter dangerous? Should agencies ban their reps … particularly their junior reps … from using it?  Or at least stay awake nights fretting about risk? Lately, there have been a slew of Twitter-related PR gaffes by unlucky (or irresponsible or unenlightened) PR types that have made senior agency and in-house executives particularly uneasy. But is their fear misplaced?

Let’s recap:

1. The creators of video game Duke Nukem fired their PR firm The Redner Group after their rep tweeted the following threat to reviewers: « Too many went too far with their reviews … we are reviewing who gets games next time and who doesn’t based on today’s venom. »

2. A PR rep manning Chrysler’s Twitter account likely misapplied the following Tweet to his client’s corporate account rather than his own personal account (either way, it’s bad) : « I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive. »

3. Similarly, an internal social media resource at the Red Cross, made the following Twitter gaffe: « Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd. » The Red Cross apparently has a sense of humour, posting the following after deleting the tweet: « We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross  is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys. » The incident actually turned into a fundraising opportunity, thanks to the good people at Dogfish Head.

4. If you’re a fan of the classics, you’ll appreciate this flashback to 2009, when a Ketchum exec tweeted his distaste for the city of Memphis a few short hours after teaching FedEx employees all about Twitter at their Memphis head office: « True confession but i’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say I would die if I had to live here! » FedEx was not amused.

While I’m of the mind that these incidents speak more to very poor judgement than to the perils of Twitter, and that instilling solid values is what agencies should do to ensure their employees communicate professionally no matter the communications channel, there are a few things you can do to ensure this kind of slip up doesn’t happen at your PR agency:

1. Don’t mix business with pleasure: Tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite have features that let you manage multiple accounts. Choosing one for client accounts and another for your personal account means that there’s little risk of mistweeting.

2. Be transparent: While it’s not  best practice, many brands turn a portion … if not all … of their tweeting responsibility over to their PR agencies. They should do so transparently, ensuring tweets are identified; using initials is standard practice.  At least this way followers can identify the actual source and not necessarily link it to the brand (in an ideal world, anyway). It might help if accidents happen.

3. Remember crisis management 101: Own up to the error and, if possible and appropriate, keep a sense of humour about it. Social media is fluid and moves quickly. A well placed mea culpa and a bit of self-effacing humour can go a long way to quickly cooling off a heated crisis.

4. Think twice before hitting submit, share or reply: do you really want to spew venom through social media channels when you’re managing accounts that aren’t your own? Don’t let momentary rage or frustration get in the way of good client relations and a reputation you’ve cultivated over time.

5. Be prepared: Maintaining an active Twitter presence, becoming part of the community and ensuring your brand’s account always has a human face is the best way to ensure your Twitter account isn’t seen as the impersonal mouthpiece of a faceless corporation. The community understands that to err is human, so be human.

As for the Duke Nukem example, threatening people, online or off,  usually isn’t the best course of action. Just saying.


  1. Genevieve

    2011.07.20 @ 14:29

    Bon exemples, faut se souvenir de toujours tourner nos pouces 7 fois avant d’écrire 😉

  2. Twitter en affaires « mes.premiers.pas.

    2011.07.26 @ 11:22

    […] Danger! Twitter! (or lessons learned from PR gaffes), Michelle Sullivan […]

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