What Ashton Kutcher Can and Can’t Teach You About Social Media

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Social Media Risk




What Ashton Kutcher Can (and Can’t) Teach You About Social Media

A Recipe for Social Media Disaster:



  • Take 8.5 million Twitter fans
  • Mix with 10.9 million Facebook fans
  • Tweet without researching issue
  • Add a weak photo apology
  • Promise to do better
  • Reference your failed marriage cavalierly
  • Mix well and make matters worse

By Karen Masullo, EVP Social Media, Firestorm

Social Media Responsibility

Ashton Kutcher has been the Celebrity Poster Child for Social Media.  Often called “The Mayor of Twitter,” he wholly embraced the medium early on, employed creative strategies for growth, visited and worked along side top tech companies to expand and explore the medium, launched and successfully promoted his own company and brand – Katalyst – which includes a Social Media division, and allowed millions to not only watch his (and Demi Moore’s) fabulous daily life, but to interact as well.

About two years ago, not long after his highly publicized “challenge” to CNN Twitter growth campaign, Mr Kutcher posted a link to a YouTube video that suggested a deep conspiracy on the part of the US regarding the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers.

At the time he had less than 2 million Twitter followers, however that was enough, in tandem with Ms. Moore’s account, to take the video viral (or more viral than it had been). Many found this irresponsible and distasteful and “unfollowed” his account, but his core brand advocates were not detracted, and his social impact continued to increase.

On September 11 of this year he Tweeted that it was “the greatest day of the year,” because it was the start of football season.

There was, not surprisingly, some backlash.

His response: “I got mad respect for the people that suffered in 9/11. Pls don’t twist my enthusiasm. … Hindsight…Yeah, that was probably a poorly worded tweet.”

His brand advocates seemed to understand, and many football enthusiasts empathized with his passion (albeit ill-timed enthusiam) for the game.

However, last Wednesday, November 9, he felt the wrath of his almost 20 million combined fans after he posted a reaction to a news item without understanding the context or background.  This is what he Tweeted:

“How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste”

The response was immediate and picked up by every major news outlet.  The LA Times headline read: “Ashton Kutcher’s Paterno tweet sends actor running for PR cover

This clearly demonstrates the power of Social Media used poorly; in this world of millions of news desks of one, the backlash is instantaneous.

After being barraged by criticism, Kutcher deleted the original tweet, and tried to repair the damage via his Posterous account on November 10:

“Up until today, I have posted virtually every one of my tweets on my own, but clearly the platform has become too big to be managed by a single individual. When I started using twitter, it was a communication platform that people could say what they were thinking in real time and if their facts were wrong the community would quickly and helpfully reframe an opinion. It was a conversation, a community driven education tool, and opinion center that encouraged healthy debate. It seems that today that twitter has grown into a mass publishing platform, where ones tweets quickly become news that is broadcast around the world and misinformation becomes volatile fodder for critics.


Last night after returning home from work, I walked by the television and simply saw a headline that Joe Paterno had been fired. Having no more information than that, I assumed that he had been fired due to poor performance as an aging coach. As a football fan and someone who had watched Joe’s career move from that of legend/innovator to a head coach that fulfilled his duty in the booth, I assumed that the university had let him go due to football related issues. With that assumption (how dare I assume) I posted a tweet defending his career. I then when about my evening, had some dinner, did a little work, and about an hour later turned on ESPN where I got the full story. I quickly went back on my twitter account and found a hailstorm of responses calling me an “idiot” and several other expletives that I’ve become accustom to hearing for almost anything I post. I quickly retracted and deleted my previous post; however, that didn’t seem enough to satisfy people’s outrage at my misinformed post. I am truly sorry. And moreover am going to take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. And as an advocate in the fight against child sexual exploitation, I could not be more deeply saddened by the events at Penn State.


A collection of over 8 million followers is not to be taken for granted. I feel responsible to deliver informed opinions and not spread gossip or rumors through my twitter feed. While I feel that running this feed myself gives me a closer relationship to my friends and fans I’ve come to realize that it has grown into more than a fun tool to communicate with people. While I will continue to express myself through @Aplusk, I’m going to turn the management of the feed over to my team at Katalyst as a secondary editorial measure, to ensure the quality of its content. My sincere apologies to anyone who I offended. It was a mistake that will not happen again.”

As of this writing, this particular post has been viewed 210678 times.

Mr. Kutcher apologized on Twitter, Facebook, in the media.  He stated that he would withdraw from Twitter until he found a better way to manage his messaging:

“As of immediately I will stop tweeting until I find a way to properly manage this feed. I feel awful about this error. Won’t happen again.”

However, that didn’t happen. He continued to Tweet almost immediately.

His “I’m with Stupid” image was an attempt to repair the damage.

Based on the response of his fans, there did seem to be some “Hey man, mistakes happen” going on, although even CBS Corp. Chief Leslie Moonves commented, saying he’s pleased with the ratings for revamped “Two and a Half Men” and with new star Kutcher — “aside from his comments about Penn State.” Ouch.

And then last night, 11/17, he posted this:
For some, this message was the tipping point. He (or his team?) compounded the original issue by adding a second issue to it – what many have expressed as insensitivity to his estranged wife. The very act of messaging after stating he would not without more thoughtful messaging consideration nullifies the previous “apology”.

It appears insincere because there was no Twitter moratorium.

What Can You Learn from Ashton Kutcher

At some point, your company may be faced with a communications challenge via your Social Accounts; a mismanagement of messaging, an ill-timed Tweet, an embarrassing situation, a significant disaster or crisis situation.

Rather than scramble to respond, divert, over-explain and over-message, step back and assess the situation before you respond.  Better yet, Predict that it is going to happen and Plan now for the eventuality.

Remember: good communication is about

  • Building, maintaining or restoring trust
  • Improving knowledge and understanding
  • Guiding and encouraging appropriate attitudes, decisions, actions and behaviors
  • Encouraging collaboration and cooperation

In a crisis, effective communication is crucial and should assume a central role from the start. It establishes confidence in the ability of an entity to deal with a crisis and to bring about a rapid resolution.

Effective crisis communication is also integral to the larger process of information exchange aimed at eliciting trust and promoting understanding of the relevant issues or actions.

Mr. Kutcher almost started to get it right when he stated in his Posterous post: “And as an advocate in the fight against child sexual exploitation, I could not be more deeply saddened by the events at Penn State.”

From there, he could have expanded on that theme; raised awareness, started a campaign and used his media prominence to demonstrate not only his sincerity but his commitment to his words.

He needed to step back and assess the full picture and impact of subsequent messaging.

He didn’t do that. He instead tweeted about what should be a private issue of the breakup of his marriage, and given the reasons for that breakup, an unwise approach to damage control.

He has damaged his Brand.

Can it be Fixed?

Time will tell just how much damage has been done, but if Mr. Kutcher wants to make a good start, here’s what he can do now:

Follow the Firestorm Preaction model – Predict, Plan Perform:

Predict – Who is the audience & what are their concerns?


Plan – Tailor the message, messenger, and media format to the stakeholders


Perform – Focus on 3 key messages

Luck is not a strategic plan.

Call us.  We can help. (800) 321-2219

Social Media Risk and Reward

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