The Unwritten Social Media Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Be An Idiot”

Does this image need a caption? That would defeat the purpose.

There’s an unwritten rule in the social media universe that you don’t get to be an idiot.  At least, not while on social media when you’re representing a brand or company.  You want to be an idiot, you can go do that on your personal account.

Sadly, there are many examples of corporate accounts (more specifically, the people behind them, but you can’t really tell the difference if there is one) acting like idiots.  This past weekend brought two more stunning examples of idiocy that illustrate some excellent rules for you to follow if you don’t want to look like an idiot.

Rule 1: Learn about a trend before you comment on it

In the wake of the horrific shootings early Friday morning, #Aurora was trending on Twitter.  CelebBoutique, a UK-based company that makes fashions based on what celebrities wear, posted the following tweet:

Ouch.

The tweet was left up for an hour before being pulled.  Then the company issued the following statement (across multiple tweets, I’ve consolidated):

We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora – Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend, at that time our social media was totally UNAWARE of the situation and simply thought it was another trending topic – we have removed the very insensitive tweet and will of course take more care in future to look into what we say in our tweets. Again we do apologise for any offence caused this was not intentional & will not occur again. Our most sincere apologies for both the tweet and situation. – CB

Although I’m glad CB learned their lesson, here’s a follow-up lesson: Don’t be an idiot when you’re apologizing.  Just apologize, don’t explain because your explanation isn’t likely to help you.  As in this case.  Are we supposed to think it’s better that a pop-culture based company isn’t based in the US so it’s understandable that they couldn’t, you know, click on a trending topic and read a few tweets to figure out what was going on?  Just because you sell fashions based on an idiot doesn’t mean you get to act like one.  Or, if you do, you’re going to be called out as an idiot.

Related rule: Be very careful if you’re trying to make a joke about a trending topic.  Especially if you work in fashion and aren’t a comedian.  (See Kenneth Cole’s #Cairo idiocy.)  Or even if you are a comedian.  (See Gilbert Gottfried’s Japan tsunami idiocy.)

Rule 2: Listen before you talk

Social media is not a one-sided conversation.  And your involvement in social media is a promise to listen to content just as much as you send out content.  If you don’t do that as an individual you’ll be seen as a spammer or someone that people don’t want to be involved with and that’s your choice.  But if you represent a company or an organization, failing to listen first can be disastrous act of idiocy.

This can be especially true if you run a Twitter account affiliated with the National Rifle Association and you wake up one Friday morning, don’t check the news or Twitter trends or email or possibly anything, and instead you post the following tweet:

Ouch, part 2.

It doesn’t matter if you work on one side of a hotly debated issue like gun control or you work in a neutral industry that barely makes the headlines–if you represent a brand or company or organization you owe it to your employer to not be an idiot.  One part of that means checking the latest news to make sure that the ground has shifted underneath your feet overnight so you don’t step off into a chasm.  Because it could happen to anyone.

An NRA spokesman later said “A single individual, unaware of events in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of context.”  I’m not sure if this spokesman gets the point of a broad platform like Twitter–the world is your context.  The fact that the person you trusted with sending out content didn’t know about this horrific shooting pretty much is the context for your message once it goes out.

In this case, a few hours after posting this message the Twitter account was deleted.  I don’t know how many tweets they had sent or how many followers they had obtained, but all that work was now wasted over an idiotic mistake.

Related rule: You can’t schedule content and walk away.  As an extension of the rule that you must listen before you talk, you also have to be incredibly careful about scheduling content (tweets, posts, blogs, anything).  While it’s a nice way to spread out your content, you also face the danger of becoming lazy and not seeing if the environment has changed and your content is no longer appropriate.  There’s an unfortunate example here of a scheduled tweet sent out for people to post photos from a Radiohead concert that had been cancelled earlier when the stage collapsed killing one person and injuring three others.  Scheduling content doesn’t excuse you for being an idiot.

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Filed under Informal Tone, Social Content, Social Media Risks, Social Platforms, Twitter

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