Posted on by Vijay Ramaswamy
With social media so easily accessible, practically any newsworthy event ends up “going social.” From the debates to the World Series to the upcoming election, social media users can be found engaged in discussion 24 hours a day.
But perhaps no recent event has generated so much talk as the hurricane-turned-super storm, Sandy that blasted the east coast last week.
And with good reason. No natural disaster has caused this degree of devastation since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
So it’s unsurprising that people are sharing well wishes, thoughts and prayers, and other commentary. News sources re-tweet user-submitted images of the damage done at the Jersey shore and in New York.
Twitter, for better or worse, has become a 24-hour news source, not just in the wake of this disaster, but when anything newsworthy happens. And though there are many using the power of Twitter for good, there are, unfortunately, some who are making headlines for the wrong reasons.
Take, for example, GOP operative and hedge-fund manager, Shashank Tripathi. As Sandy terrorized New York, Tripathi began tweeting from the user name @ComfortablySmug – and his tweets weren’t helpful. Far from it, in fact. Tripathi reported that the NYSE was flooding and that power was going to be cut from the entire city, as well as other “breaking news” items that were entirely fabricated, but also caused a lot of unnecessary hysteria.
Then there was the clothing retailer, American Apparel, who, in addition to sending an email blast, asked if users (targeted in affected areas, mind you) were bored during the storm, then provided a link for online shopping. This insensitive tweet received plenty of negative backlashes.
Even HubSpot was criticized during Sandy. Users expressed their anger when a HubSpot blog post suggested news-jacking the hurricane – making the news work to one’s own advantage, in other words. Users believed it was insensitive for HubSpot to suggest anyone use such a tragedy for personal gain – blog visits, conversions, and so on – and took to the comments and Twitter to express that belief. The incident resulted in HubSpot removed the blog post altogether.
Of course, this is all to say nothing of the Twitter SNAFUs that happen day-to-day when one person, believing him- or herself to be tweeting from a personal account, tweets on behalf of a company instead. This happens more often than you might think. Small businesses may be at an advantage because hundreds of thousands of people likely won’t see it happen (a la KitchenAid’s rogue tweet during the first Presidential debate, most recently), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
Social media has proven its worth in situations like these time and again by providing a means for people to disseminate information when its most needed – what shelters are open, where food and hot showers can be found, etc. But we have to be responsible tweeters.
Remember: you are what you tweet.
Tips for Responsible Tweeting
#1: Only provide your login information to someone who has really earned your trust.
You may be tempted to hand the Twitter account over to the intern or a new employee, but hold that thought. You need to know that you can really trust the people who have this information. Are they responsible tweeters? Look at their accounts. What if one of their posts were to erroneously end up coming from you? Would it bring shame to your company, or are they sharing similar information?
If the posts are about parties and include lots of personal pictures of friends, you might want to think again before handing over the keys. If the posts are largely similar to yours, you’ve found someone who shares the same Twitter values, and is therefore a much safer bet.
Even if you work with an agency that maintains your account for you, make sure you take the time to get to know who will be posting on your behalf. If you don’t feel like you can trust that person, don’t be afraid to ask for someone else to do it. This is, after all, your company’s reputation at stake.
#2: Before you use a hashtag, make sure you know what it means.
It’s not a bad policy at all to spend some time periodically throughout the day catching up on what’s going on in the world. Twitter hashtags can be great for this because they let you know what’s going on. When you’re in the know, you won’t accidentally misuse a hashtag and offend people.
For example, in July, after the horrible theatre shootings in Aurora, CO, #Aurora was trending on Twitter with people sharing words of encouragement, hope, and support for that community. CelebBoutique, unaware of what had happened, tweeted that it must be trending because of their Kim Kardashian-inspired Aurora dress.
As you can probably imagine, people were not happy.
The moral of the story: before you participate in the conversation, make sure you understand what’s being said in it. When it comes to social media, the cardinal rule is to listen before you speak.
#3: Be sensitive to others.
Responsible tweeters know better than to go around blasting everyone and everything. Social media makes it so simple for us to share every single thought that comes into our heads that we sometimes forget what’s really important: the world does not need to know every single thought that comes into our heads.
Inevitably, what happens is that someone, in the process of tweeting before thinking, offends someone they care about. Depending on how well connected that person is (especially in cases of bonafide celebrity status, for example), he or she could end up offending or hurting an entire group of people. Take, for example, Ann Coulter’s regular use of the words “retard” and “retarded,” used in her tweets as insults toward people, which have recently elicited not only public damnation, but also a powerful response from John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympian.
Have you fallen victim to irresponsible tweeting? How do you take steps to prevent such incidents from happening to you and your business? Please share any tips or thoughts in the comments!
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