When You Eff Up, Own Up. A mini case study and crash course in crisis management when a tweet goes south.
Trigger warning: this post brings up suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, help is available. You are not alone. You’re needed and wanted in this world. In the US, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
It’s mini-case study day friends! Today we’re breaking down a tweet from a performing arts blog that went horribly awry, where the account went awry in handling it, and a crash course in crisis communications in the event you have a future post go awry.
Could I have added one more “awry” into that sentence? Probably.
Now grab yourself some snacks, and let’s dig in!
I often suggest to clients to look to current events and trending topics for ideas on blog and social media posts. Doing so is beneficial for a list of reasons so long it can be its own blog post. (And will be in the future!)
Last week a certain performing arts based blog (not a client) did that, and … well … let’s just say that the result was ... a little less than splendid.
Last week saw the tragic deaths of two high-profile people, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Several brands, organizations, and celebrities shared their condolences and stories on social media.
The blog in question today not only crossed the line, they obliterated it. (And though the name is being withheld, the tweets are not so that this can properly become an example of what not to do.)
Mere hours after the announcement of Bourdain’s death, they tweeted this:
Many people swiftly replied that the tweet was in poor taste, inappropriate, and needed to be deleted.
The account, instead of immediately deleting the tweet, doubled down that it was to “promote a discussion about suicide.”
Eventually a statement appeared, though the original tweet wasn't deleted with it, as you can see here:
And the full statement which only appeared on the personal page:
Adding to things, the account blocked the people who told them the tweets were in poor taste.
Mind you, most of these tweets weren’t mean or slinging personal insults. They simply said the tweet was insensitive in a time many were in immense grief and pain and needed to be deleted.
After a few hours, the offending tweet, statement, and other replies from Twitter account were deleted. The statement stayed up on the personal page only.
Note: I can't tell that anything was on their Facebook page. This appears to have only gone awry on Twitter.
What went wrong:
Had this account replied with a quick “Shit. I screwed up. Sorry,” deleted the tweet, and left things alone, this would have probably quickly blown over. However since that’s not how things played out, let’s dig into where things went awry so that the lessons can be learned.
The tweet was incredibly bad timing.
Suicide is never a joking matter but, let’s be honest, at a different time this tweet most likely would have scrolled on past relatively unaffected.
Instead, it went up the same morning as a very high profile suicide, which was the second high-profile suicide of the week. To say this is in wildly poor judgement and taste is an understatement.
There’s a way to use high profile suicides to open a dialogue, then there’s what this account did.
Look - nobody is disputing that there aren’t tons of suicides in opera.
(Interesting side note: Suicides in opera happen so often that there was a study conducted and published in a medical journal.)
But these are FICTIONAL. We see that person alive and well at curtain call.
Had the actual intent be to open a productive discussion, as they later said was their intent, there are so many ways they could have done it. This would have been good time to talk about suicide within the performing arts community and ways we can help each other. They have the platform and audience, but didn't do that.
Instead, they took a salacious route. It was only after many people criticized them that they said it was to start a conversation.
It started a conversation all right. The wrong one. And to do this while so many people were reeling and in grief is egregious and wrong.
The cavalier response to reader backlash.
When you post something and the majority of replies say you’ve messed up and need to delete the post, it’s time to re-evaluate what was posted.
What are the true intentions? Have you struck a nerve that needed to be hit or did you truly make a misstep?
Considering that many replies I read were polite, if dissenting, it’s probably fair to say that this was a major misstep.
Either way, when you receive many replies that are contrary to what you posted, it’s time to drop the ego, honestly evaluate what and why you’ve done it, and be open to the possibility that you’ve royally botched this up.
Pro tip: even when you delete your post, the replies remain and are easily found. Your audience will be able to read and make a judgement call of their own so it’s best to be honest with yourself and others.
People make mistakes. That’s OK. It’s how you handle them that determines whether the audience will let you move forward or crash and burn.
They didn’t make an apology. They felt pressure to do the right thing and half-heartedly, begrudginly threw something together.
Quite frankly, this wasn't even the epitome of the non-apology apologies: the “I’m sorry you were offended." This is a condescending statement attempting to take the high road after they've already taken one of the lowest roads possible.
(Don’t @ me with “political correctness has gone too far” b.s. Political correctness is nothing more than being considerate of others. If you can’t be considerate and thoughtful of others, you should try not being so contemptible.)
After a while the statement was deleted from Twitter, though it stayed on a personal page.
For the record: apologies need to be placed where the offense was made. (Although it’s hard to tell if the tweet was originally a tweet or a push from Facebook.) The audience may not go to click that link or check other social media channels to see the statement, basically negating the entire action. (Even if it does read as condescending.)
Pro tip: when connecting social media channels, keep professional to professional and personal to personal. It’s incongruous and awkward to ask your audience to connect with the brand in one space and with the person in another.
If you want to be a brand, own it. Be the brand and be a professional. Otherwise, stick to the personal and be an amateur. (No shade to amateur … it’s important to properly convey to the reader if you’re pro or amateur. Just as an audience has a different level of expectation for amateur vs professional performances, they have different expectations for the blogs they read. Present yourself appropriately.)
Granted, the line between personal and professional does get blurred in social media - especially if you operate under your own name like I do. However, anything with a brand name needs to connect to other branded pages, not personal accounts.
Look. It’s your feed and you can of course curate it however you want. However, as I've stated earlier, replies don’t delete when a tweet does. In that same vein, blocking people doesn’t block others from seeing what happened. The audience will be able to see and determine if those blocked were being slanderous or respectful. If you’re blocking people who respectfully dissented, you’ll look pettyAF.
Don’t be petty.
What you can learn from this:
Note: these are the most basic of things to do. The specific steps that one needs to take in a crisis communications response depends on a number of factors. Today’s example is pretty cut and dry so the response needs are simple. If you’re in a major jam, please consult with a professional to work out your proper crisis PR plan.
Gut check before you hit post.
If the topic you’re posting on is sensitive ask yourself if you’re being thoughtful and respectful in your post. Are you shedding light or sensationalizing? Veer on the side of thoughtfulness and kindness.
Next step after a post goes awry depends on the post, the intention, and how it was received.
When I was a professional organizer, I often said things people didn’t like to hear - mainly because the nature of that work is so personal and nerves get touched. In particular, I did a series on getting rid of storage units, and it sent a lot of people into a tizzy. The comment sections lit UP. BUT, from that we were able to have productive discussions and come to understandings because the timing and intentions were appropriate. Furthermore, I didn’t take it personally when people got pissed. I examined what I wrote vs what comments I received back, and considered both when continuing the conversation.
In today’s example, the post itself was wildly insensitive due to incredibly poor timing. The reaction was swift and strong. It didn’t add to a conversation in a productive way. It needed to be deleted.
If you’re truly creating a productive - if … ahem … lively - discussion, then keep the post and continue a civil discourse. If all you’ve done is sensationalize and piss people off, then suck it up and delete without whining.
(Caveat: if your entire brand is to be a jerk, then stick to it and piss people off. That’s yo thang. However, I have a feeling if you’re reading this then “jackwad” isn’t your brand voice so chill with the nasty tweets, and delete when you miss the mark and unintentionally piss everyone off.)
Don't try to backtrack and take the high road. Don't be condescending. Apologize.
A proper apology has multiple parts - the whole of which can be a blog post in itself and I invite you to look into the psychology behind sincere apologies.
The basic gist for here is:
Say you’re sorry. And mean it.
Explain what went wrong. (Unless it’s going to sound defensive and bs-y, in which case leave this part out.)
Acknowledge your responsibility and role in the problem. This is most important part. You’ve made a mistake. Acknowledge and own it.
Offer to make it right. Actions speak louder than words baby.
Don’t repeat the mistake.
If you can’t do all of that, keep it simple. “I’m sorry. I apologize. I won’t do it again,” can be quite effective. If you don’t believe in your apology and get defensive with it, it’s going to stink worse that one Easter Egg that nobody found months ago.
Leave the lines of communication open.
Don't block people just because they disagree with you. Don't delete responses to shape things to your agenda, either.
If someone is being particularly tacky and slinging nasty personal insults is one thing - but simple disagreement is another.
Use this as an opportunity to show your audience how you handle conflict resolution and take care of things when you make a mistake. Making a mistake sucks, but owning up to it is good and can garner respect from those who read it.
Learn from your mistake and don’t do it again.
And a final note: If you want to be a jerk and bank on other people’s pain, that’s an option available to you. Not a good option, but an option nonetheless. However please, for the love of all that is good in our industry, do that on your own name and not a brand. You’re taking the rest of the industry down with you. Opera has enough challenges with finding new audiences, getting funding, and escaping the stereotype of being elitist pricks. Don’t be a bad ambassador for the art form you claim to love.