The Twitter Era: Nothing Is Off the Record

While Twitter is useful for customer engagement, avoid the social media blooper reel with a few simple tips.

Twitter bloopers | BCBusiness
When you’re representing a company on a social media platform, think before you tweet.

While Twitter is useful for customer engagement, avoid the social media blooper reel with a few simple tips.

Twitter is a valuable digital PR tool for your business. The social platform allows you to reach brand advocates and talk directly to customers. Twitter is also a great way to build your community and engage with various influencers, media and bloggers online. Most importantly, the platform allows you to “listen” — to hear directly from consumers and find out what they think of your brand or product.

But, as with any real time digital communications tool, it’s easy to forget you’re communicating to a large public and everything is on the record — for good. The misuse of Twitter can damage your brand’s image and place your business in controversy.  

Consider the recent derogatory tweet sent by Khalif Mitchell of the BC Lions. The tweet, which contained a racial slur, resulted in the CFL fining Mitchell (even B.C. Premier Christy Clark chimed in, calling the tweet “dumb”). The BC Lions were quick to send out a statement, but not before backlash ensued on social media.

The BC Lions’ experience isn’t rare — other brands have found themselves in similar situations. Kitchen Aid hit the red zone after one of its employees accidentally sent an inappropriate joke about Obama’s grandmother through the Kitchen Aid corporate Twitter account. In Alberta, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s tweets about feeding tainted beef to the homeless caused uproar and forced the opposition leader to apologize.  The tweet (and the corresponding responses) generated national headlines.

More recently, President’s Choice apologized for sending a tasteless tweet about Hurricane Sandy, while insensitive sales messages from fashion brands American Apparel and Gap sparked similar backlash. 

Every tweet is a potential quote, and the media can and will use your 140 characters. Grabbing screenshots are easier than ever, so in some cases, you might be quoted on a tweet even if you have deleted it. Your tweets live on!  

Mistakes happen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid some headline-grabbing gaffes. Banning your employees from using Twitter is unrealistic and shows a lack of trust and transparency.  When it comes to using social platforms, consider the following tips instead:

1. Draft a practical and flexible social media policy.
A social media policy is your most important tool in attempting to avoid a PR crisis. Here are some pointers when crafting your social media policy:

  • Encourage your employees to be transparent. Employees should be honest about who they work for.
  • Aim for clear and practical guidelines so your employees know what not to tweet, but one that is flexible enough so they can be authentic online.
  • Educate your employees on best practices. For corporate tweets, for instance, employees should use sensitivity during times of calamities.  Also, clarify your company’s voice — casual versus formal, humourous versus serious — and if you opt for a humourous tone, put in place a clear guideline of what’s acceptable.
  • Remind employees that nothing is off the record. Replies and direct messages are fair game.
  • Emphasize that confidential information should never be posted to Twitter or to other social media networks.
  • Be clear that “opinions are my own” disclosures are often not enough.  Unprofessional remarks, including complaints about the employer, co-workers, or clients, should be avoided altogether on social media.
  • Provide a clear guideline on how questions or feedback regarding the company’s social media policy will be handled.

2. Offer media and social media training to your employees. 
Chatting with media in person (for instance, during an interview) isn’t that different from engaging with them online. Twitter is popular with journalists and bloggers, and it’s possible your employees will engage with them at some point.Media (and social media) training arms your employees with the knowledge of how to engage with media in person and online, and how to direct questions or comments related to the brand and workplace.

3. Ask employees to set up separate professional and personal social media management accounts.
If you’re using a tool like Hootsuite, I recommend setting up separate professional and personal accounts. Doing so ensures that accidental tweets (such as the Kitchen Aid example mentioned above) are avoided.

4. Review your policies regularly.
Social media platforms change quickly, so work with your communications team or your PR firm regularly to review your policies. For example, the explosion of visual social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest bring up a new set of issues to address in your revised social media policy.  

Twitter is a great tool that allows companies to engage and “humanize” their brand. Think ahead and have the right policies in place to maximize the potential of every tweet while sidestepping potential Twitter bloopers.