Some weeks have specific themes in the types of questions I receive about social media.

And this week was no exception.  Question after question that went like this:

  • How do you handle errant tweets?
  • Do you discipline employees who tweet mistakenly from your agency accounts?
  • Did you see [fill in the blank] example? What would you do?
  • Have you ever sent a bad tweet?
  • Do we delete tweets or issue an apology?

So, let’s chat about your worst fear…..making a mistake.

I guarantee you that if you have over 1,000 tweets to your Twitter account, you’ve already said at least one thing you wish you hadn’t.  And if you believe you have 100% clean record, then my first question will be “how many of your tweets are automated?”

You see, if you’re actively engaging in conversation, here’s the first issue: We are Human!

I know this may be shocking news, but humans, both in real life and on conversational social media, will say things that are unintended, emotional, have multiple meanings and sometimes are without much long-term thought.

And while most people will agree with me on a personal level, they remain fearful that their “official agency account” might get them fired if they get caught being human.

But here is the 2nd issue: Being human actually instills confidence rather than distrust because people can relate to errors.

We all make them at many levels.  It is how you respond to these errors that will define whether you are confident in your communication strategy or unsure how to handle these mistweets.

This past week, we watched the City of Vaughan experience one of these life lessons.  For more information on this story, here is one of the stories written.

Why Do Errors Happen?

There are many causes for mistweets, but here are a few of the most popular methods:

  • People use an aggregator like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck that contains multiple accounts. People may launch a tweet out of the wrong account or via multiple accounts.  On a smartphone, sometimes the buttons are small enough that touching your screen in the wrong way can cause a mistake.
  • Someone thought they were sending a Direct Message to someone else and it wasn’t really a direct message.
  • Haste…in an effort to be fast, someone hits the wrong account
  • A person can start a “reply” tweet and change their mind. Next time they tweet, what they said may go out as an @mention to that person.

What Should We Do About Errors?

You have three basic choices which include:

  1. Delete the tweet
  2. Delete the tweet and clarify and/or apologize
  3. Don’t delete the tweet, but clarify and/or apologize

I will share with you that I have done all three of these actions based on the interaction that the errant tweet has garnered between the time it was tweeted and caught.

Now, I catch my errant agency tweets quickly because I have set our agency Twitter accounts to text me personally through the Twitter Fast Follow setup which sends all tweets from our agency accounts to me via text message.  And because our main agency Twitter account also feeds a regional emergency services feed, we are able to delete errant tweets before it is picked up through Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feed.  So, if there has been no re-tweet and no engagement, an errant tweet will be deleted if caught quickly.

If the errant tweet has been interacted with, we’ll admit our humanity and either clarify or apologize. To date, this practice has served us well and we carry on with our regular conversations or community engagement.  The key here is to be honest.  Remember, if tweets are seen and then deleted without comment, people will wonder what you might be hiding.

And we also respect that some agencies will choose to keep the errant tweet, but clarify.  The danger here can be that the errant tweet may be shared more often than your clarification tweet.

The wisdom here is not to kneejerk and make it a bigger deal than it needs to be.  Whether it was from an employee or your accounts were outright hacked, people understand that it happens and agencies that are comfortable in the social sphere will recover quickly if they can be flexible with their communications.

Here are some basic considerations for your social media training guides:

  • Encourage your employees to be professional in all of their communications as part of your agency code of conduct.  Just as you might have to follow up on a complaint in the community if one of your employees misbehaves, the same standard should apply if there were any online concerns expressed about a tweet.
  • Ensure that your employees don’t fear making mistakes. Unless you are the one perfect agency out there, be sure that employees know how to handle a mistake online. Make sure they know your expectations for managing mistakes.  And be sure they know who to notify in your agency’s chain of command when errors happen.

And, last but not least, keep your sense of humor.  You won’t be the only person making mistakes.  In fact, there are some legendary stories of errors on Twitter.  Just ask the American Red Cross or check out the Daily Beast’s list of infamous twitter mistakes.




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