10 Social Media Risk Lessons from Recent Headlines

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Firestorm Opinion, by Karen Masullo EVP Social Media Risk

As the person who is primarily responsible for Social Media Messaging for Firestorm®, I start each day exactly the same way:  I check our monitoring tools for trending topics, and then check various news outlets in order to be aware of what has occurred globally while I have been away from my desk.

I do this to inform, comment, and alert others on our team to emerging issues and crises, but more important, I do this to assure my messaging is sensitive to emerging crises, and to those affected by events.

Lesson 1: “Every Crisis is a Human Crisis.”

Never forget that every crisis involves a Person; someone’s child, sibling, parent, spouse – someone’s someone.  Every crisis has a face. One must however, be aware of a crisis emerging in the first place.


Lesson 2: Check the WHY of a Trend

Sadly, this week in social media provided too many lessons on what may happen when a basic step of social media management is not taken; the first is that of trend awareness.

An upscale, UK-based fashion boutique with more than 40k followers on Twitter, saw the word “Aurora” trending on Twitter. The @celebboutique account uses social media in ways appropriate to its brand: for fashion, fun and frivolity.  Given that they have a signature dress (inspired by Kim Kardashian) named Aurora, they jumped on the trend without first clicking into the trend to understand its context.

They learned a very tough lesson – Check the WHY of a Trend before posting.  To their credit, Celebboutique responded to their error sincerely and immediately; they messaged an apology via Twitter, and you may find their very public apology prominently displayed on their website.

Lesson 3: Address Messaging Mistakes Appropriately and Honestly

Celebboutique’s well-written apology reads:


Celebboutique wish to offer their unreserved apologies for the huge distress and offence it has caused with the Aurora tweet.

We were extremely careless and sloppy in not checking the details of the trending article and wrongly assumed that it related to something entirely different. The person responsible for the tweet was not aware of the situation in the USA at the time and would never have made the tweet if they had been. We are all utterly divested and horrified at the mistake. There was never any intention to capitalize on this dreadful tragedy and this was a genuine and honest mistake, the like of which will not happen again.

There are no words to describe how sorry we are for our error and we again offer our sincere apologies to both the families of the victims and to the American public at large for this appalling error. We hope that we can be forgiven for this dreadful but genuine mistake.

NRA Shoots Self in Foot

In the case of CelebBoutique, I don’t expect them to check breaking news in the way I would expect of a very public, national organization with a huge constituency; a constituency specifically focused on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The primary National Rifle Association Twitter account has – of this writing – no new messaging on its primary Twitter account since July 19, 2012; a sub account however, @NRA_Rifleman (the official journal of the National Rifle Association) Tweeted what was perceived to be an exceptionally insensitive message given the breaking news out of Aurora, Colorado – at 6:20 PDT AM on July 20.


I would have liked to be able to say that this account immediately recognized its error and issued an apology.  I would have liked to say that they used a message pre-scheduling feature in Hoot-Suite, and were unable to cancel the message before they became aware of the tragic news from Aurora. I would have liked to say that the owner of the account was simply unaware of the tragedy.

At the time, I couldn’t say any of those things because the tweet – and then account – were deleted (as was its Facebook account), and no message of clarification was issued by the NRA.

A response was eventually issued to CNN:

“A single individual, unaware of events in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of context. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known.” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam in a comment issued to CNN.

This response did little to quell the social media backlash.

By stating “…that is being completely taken out of context…” the NRA response completely negates the immediate reactions of a significantly large population, a population that included its own followers.  Had that particular phrase been omitted from the statement, the response would have been much more palatable.  Additionally, the “single individual” comment appears to throw the message manager under the bus.

An alternately worded statement might have been:

“We sincerely regret the message posted to our Twitter account on July 20.  We were, at the time of the message, unaware of the events in Colorado.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community.”

Lesson 4:  Use caution when using pre-scheduled messaging.

The most innocent of pre-scheduled messages may be exceptionally inappropriate in wake of an emerging crisis.  Imagine you are a surf board manufacturer who pre-schedules a Tweet or other social tool message that might read “Surf’s Up!” the morning of a devastating Tsunami.

If you are going to use prescheduled-messaging, take a step back and review the messaging objectively in light of a variety of potential crises. Use a second set of eyes as appropriate.

Through our years of working with Crisis Response, Firestorm has learned some basic principles.  Add these to the previously stated Lessons:

Lesson 5: Never, ever hijack a Crisis hashtag.  If you don’t know what this means, read Kenneth Cole’s #Cairo Tweet Angers the Internet and then call us.  We really need to talk about Social Media Risk Management.

Lesson 6: A mistake is a mistake.  Admit it honestly and sincerely, learn from it, and move on.

Lesson 7: The key word at the end of social media is “media”.  Consider not only how you would feel if your mother read your messaging, but also if the entire world might, via a highlight on a major news network.

Lesson 8: If you’re explaining you’re losing.   Crises have a short duration but long memories; messaging consequences may determine the viability of a brand, business or organization for years to come.

Lesson 9: Don’t let your first response become the second crisis. Companies need a comprehensive Social Media Risk Plan to identify, mitigate and manage issues and crises, including those that stem from its own Social Media use.

Lesson 10: A crisis is not business as usual. A crisis is business as unusualAs always, follow a Predict.Plan.Perform.® methodology.  And please, train, train, train.

For more information on Firestorm – your Crisis Coach™ for Crisis Management, Critical Decision Support, Crisis Communications, Crisis Public Relations, and Consequence Management contact us at (800) 321-2219.


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