“Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh. You know of what I speak, Gandalf: a great Eye, lidless, wreathed in flame.” – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (film version)
tl;dr — Identifying lessons learned and gaining knowledge from them is good; implementing lessons learned into your strategic planning is better; implementing them through tactical operations is best. Assume that everyone will see what you put online.
Someone, somewhere is having some kind of meltdown on social media right now. I have no proof, but it sure seems statistically probable. #Fails seem to happen all the time. Mistakes on SM can go viral in
minutes seconds, and rulings of the court of public opinion can be swift and damaging.
This may sound like beginner talk, but the fact that seasoned SM users continue to make major mistakes justifies the occasional friendly reminder: what you put online is out there for the masses to consume, if they’re hungry for it. Act accordingly and be prepared for a worst-case scenario if you’re a professional communicator.
What Could Go Wrong?
I’ll write mostly about Twitter, because that’s the SM platform I use most, and where I see preventable tragedies unfold on an almost daily basis. However, the mistakes below can and do happen, in similar ways, on other platforms. There isn’t just a single “Eye of Sauron” (finally tied-in that LOTR quote) scouring millions of tweets for juicy tidbits in the blink of an eye (pun intended), but millions of eyes. A few (well, 10 actually) things to consider when using SM as a professional (or, heck – personal) communications tool:
- A simple re-tweet, or a tip to a friend of a friend, can catapult relatively unknown people, with just a few followers, into infamy. Just ask Justine Sacco. End result from her questionable judgment on Twitter? Some people thought she was pursued by a cyber lynch mob. That’s a matter of opinion, but what wasn’t a matter of opinion: she lost her job because of a tweet.
- Long-forgotten mistakes can just sit out there, idling in cyberspace. I happened on one (accidentally. honest!) a few months back (fig. 1), and couldn’t help but re-tweet it. I meant no malice, because I knew it was so old that most people would understand my reasons for re-tweeting (cheeky humor). I’m probably “owed one” now, based on the rules of Karma. It was obviously the “funny” ramblings of someone with access to a verified account, but back in the days when the Twitterverse felt as packed as open mic night. The original tweet was deleted very soon after my re-tweet. Took me about five minutes to find it again, via a cached page.
- People who don’t follow you may be reading your tweets, used feeds based on search terms. I use TweetDeck. These feeds don’t just rely on hashtags. Someone obviously has one for the word “madness,” because I received this reply after tweeting back and forth with a friend (about things that had nothing to do with Sparta, Muscles, Cool Beards, King Leonidas or the Hot Gates):
@bs_brewer MADNESS…? This is SPARTA!
— KingLeonidas (@KingLeonidaz_) December 11, 2013
- Hashtags weren’t really designed to be modifiers or interjections to the content you’ve posted, but as one-click tools to access themed content. If you ever use “#CrisisComms” or “#PRFail,” your tweet is going to show up in feeds that I’ve created (and if it’s a good tweet, I might re-tweet it!). If you’ve had a re-tweet from a stranger, without followers re-tweeting it first, and were confused: it’s either because of a hashtag or keyword search. That’s part of the point of those tools. Also, if you put hashtags in a reply, it still shows up in searches (if you have a public account).
- You’ve probably “made it” – although, maybe not in the way you expected – when your SM activity ends up getting attention outside of SM. Just so many examples of this, but we all have favorites (and, really, “favorite” = “Note to self: don’t ever, ever, ever, ever do anything like this!).
- There may be no better example of panic than when you’ve just tweeted something from the professional account that you manage, thinking it was your personal account. Managers from organizations as diverse as the Red Cross and Secret Service have made this mistake. I have, too – luckily, nothing bad.
- At some point what you post may be just too over-the-top for people to resist, and they will share it. This is probably more of a Famous Person or Person In A Position Of Power problem. George Clooney recently told an interviewer that he couldn’t “understand why any famous person would ever be on Twitter,” because of the inherent risks of misspeaking mistweeting.
- When you give in to the trolls, a “win” will probably still look like a “loss.” New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony’s response to a troll-ish fan on Twitter really made the rounds, but with some people insinuating that ‘Melo was acting like a bully to the teenager. Athletes, probably just due to the culture of fandom, seem to be a juicy target for trolls.
- Sometimes you don’t have to do anything to be the center of (bad) attention: you could just be a victim of mistaken identity, and others will create the meltdown for you, like when a TV reporter’s Twitter feed was mistaken (repeatedly) for that of a professional football player’s.
- Lastly, just plain old lack of common sense when it comes to recognizing the massive reach of, and how SM can, potentially, negatively influence your career, especially if you are a professional communicator. Couple that with a failure to understand privacy features and/or the recognition that something you’re posting is making the rounds (fig. 2), and you could have a (potential) problem like Cleveland Browns wide receiver Davone Bess, who had an extended meltdown via social media. (More on D. Bess’ meltdown in a later post. It’s a doozy.)
If you enjoyed this list, you’ll love Thursday’s companion post, “SM SNAFUs: 21 Lessons Learned, Relearned then Learned Again,” (that might be too long a headline) suitable for poster printing and framing in your office or tattooing on your inner forearm for quick and easy reference.