The Need for Training Wheels on Twitter

I have a coworker who often complains about our limited abilities to discuss work over social media. He claims it is a draconian and old-fashioned approach. Most of the time I let it roll past me, but more and more I think that it’s not strict or unreasonable, but in fact extremely smart. For some reason, Twitter seems to trigger the worst in public tweeters, from celebrities to companies. Don’t believe me? Lets look at some of the worst offenders.

Just this week, there were two tweets that ignited a firestorm of criticism. First, KitchenAid tweeted this:

Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president.

The company quickly claimed an employee accidentally tweeted from the corporate account instead of their personal one. Setting aside the cruelty and rudeness of the content (really, insulting the President’s grandma?!), if you were tweeting anything remotely political and had access to the company account, wouldn’t you double-check before hitting send?

Then there’s former GE CEO Jack Welch, who essentially claimed the administration falsified unemployment numbers:

Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.

He has since been explaining that he meant it as a question, and should have added a question mark. Again, if you are a major corporate figure, and you are making an off the cuff comment on a very public forum, you should take a second to proofread. You only get 140 characters, but you do get more than 140 seconds to compose your tweet … there is no time clock to rush these, and if KitchenAid and Welch had just stopped and taken an extra step back, they wouldn’t be on the defensive all week. Not to mention the fact that any discussion of the jobs numbers meant taking time to explain why there was no public conspiracy, which just steals news time and discussion away from the real issues.

But it isn’t just politics that gets people into trouble. Kenneth Cole got in big trouble for making light of the “Arab Spring” upheaval by making it a joke about his spring clothing line. Another clothing company made the mistake of commenting that #Aurora was trending during the Colorado “Dark Knight Rises” shooting due to a product line of theirs named Aurora. And Ashton Kutcher was raked over the coals for mistaking Joe Paterno’s firing as being about a football record, when it was actually about the unfolding Jerry Sandusky scandal.

All of these crises have one thing in common: the tweeter didn’t stop to proofread, double-check, or re-read their comment. They charged forward, sent it into a fast-moving social network, and then were helpless to control the damage their comment was making.

Incidentally  GMail has a solution for this called “Mail Goggles“, where you need to solve a math problem before it sends an email. They also have an Undo Send feature that hold your email for five seconds past the moment you hit send, allowing you to yank it bank if you’ve rightly second-guessed yourself.

I say Twitter, or some third-party, needs to come up with a Twitter filter option; something individuals, businesses, and celebrities could enable to help prevent these public relations disasters.

In the meantime, we will have to continue to apply our own filters. But if someone has the skills to create such a filter, allow me to submit a few guidelines …

For individuals:

  1. If a client, my boss, or a business contact read this, would I have difficulty defending my position?
  2. If my grandmother read this, would she be upset?
  3. If my spouse (current or future) saw this, would I be mortified?
  4. If my children (current or future) saw this, would I lose their respect?
  5. If someone showed this to me in five years and asked what I thought, would I be as embarrassed as I am by some of the old college photos I found recently in our attic?
  6. Will this potentially get me arrested if I am lying?

For corporations or corporate figures:

  1. Will my shareholders be happy if they see the content of this tweet on a CNN headline?
  2. Does this project my brand in a good light?
  3. Have I checked the news for any major events that might be a major discussion point on social media, and is this tweet/status appropriate for that context?

For celebrities:

  1. Will this get me fired from a movie or awards show?
  2. Will I lose commercial endorsements (current or potential) if I post this?
  3. If I send this, will I have to pay my publicist overtime to spin what I meant?
  4. Is this going to help or harm my shot at an appearance on “Dancing With The Stars”?
  5. Is this going to end in me tearfully apologizing to Matt Lauer while he asks questions in a faux-soothing voice?

If you click “yes” to any of these, the filter would boot you back to your tweet and tell you to rewrite it.

Honestly, at this point embarrassing moments on Twitter aren’t cute, or something you can chalk up to unfamiliarity with social media — they simply reflect incompetence, or a disregard for thinking first and commenting second. And if a public figure can’t grasp that, they need to hire someone who does, or tape these training wheels type questions to every device they use.

Gaffes such as these are harmful to the person’s personal brand, and they harm social media as well. Twitter doesn’t get portrayed as a place where people are keeping up on real-time information, instead it gets portrayed as that place where the famous person said something really dumb and/or insensitive.

It’s a lose/lose for both parties, and it’s time to fix it!


Categories: Editorials, Rants and Raves

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4 replies

  1. I think tweets like these are actually one of the more interesting things about twitter. I rather enjoy reading the firestorm when somebody like Jack Welch posts what he did and then tries to step it back after the fact.

    • Doug-

      The problem is… you THINK. You see the first shot but then also read the follow-ups. Most people don’t. It is like the page 40 retraction. The damage is done and the retraction does nothing other than give some deniablity to the person who shot their mouth off in the first place.

  2. Funny timing of a new article that melds perfectly with yours –

    I agree – the company I work for has their own social media folks and are EXTREMELY tight about our usage. And based on some folks I fully understand it!