Importance of “Thinking before you tweet”
In the last 24 hours, my home of Nashville, Tenn., has been in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. In two situations the importance of being attentive to your social media presence have been highlighted in very different ways.
It started yesterday with another senseless shooting at a movie theater. Given tragic recent events around the country, and especially with the trial of the Aurora theater shooter in the news daily, this event not only took over local news but was quickly picked up nationally.
Like most breaking news these days, I first learned of the shooting yesterday via Twitter. As word spread my timeline became a virtual play-by-play of the situation from people on the scene, local media, etc… My first thoughts were “how can this be happening in my town? Nashville is suppose to be better than this.” I was glued to Twitter and the local news coverage as it was all unfolding.
After collecting my thoughts a bit I looked back at my laptop screen, where I happened to be composing social media messages to be pre-scheduled and go out in the coming days. It simultaneously reminded me, I had pre-scheduled messages waiting to go out within the hour for a client – which I immediately pulled. The last thing I wanted for that, or any client, was for them to look insensitive or simply unaware of what’s going on in the world around them.
Nashville-area social media managers, remember to pull those pre-scheduled msgs for today. Don't be the insensative one duing an emergency.
— Matthew Maxey (@maxey2005) August 5, 2015
This particular client has a target audience that is very Nashville-centric, and in the midst of wall-to-wall local coverage there were multiple reasons to pull the pre-scheduled tweets. The first, and hopefully most obvious, reason to pull them is sensitivity to the situation. The second reason is that, virtually every person in Nashville was focused on the developing situation at the theater – and would not be interested in anything not related to that. They especially were not going to be clicking on stories about Tennessee Titans football, new album reviews or where to find the best biscuits in town.
As social media from a brand’s standpoint becomes more and more purposeful and pre-planned, with more companies employing dedicated social media professionals (which has loads of positives), it is also imperative to learn from the mistakes of others and remain cognizant that at it’s core, social media is still a fluid and live medium. While pre-planned messages have great advantages from a management standpoint, we have all seen how it can go very badly – very quickly- when brands do not pay attention to the world around them and react accordingly.
A prime example of this was during the Boston Marathon bombings, TBS was still sending out tweets promoting a new comedy show as Twitter was being flooded with a national conversation about the attack, finding help for those hurt and tracking down the attackers.
While I highly doubt someone was heartless enough to be watching coverage of Boston, and crafting that message at the same time, that does not matter. In life, and especially online where internet mobs can form in a hurry, perception is the reality. TBS was crucified for this tweet, as were a number of other brands that let similar tweets go out. Right or wrong, as a social media manager it is part of the job description to help protect the brand’s image. In some cases, like during the Boston attacks or the Nashville theater shooting, the best way to protect that image is to remain silent. In times of local or national emergency, if you can not be relevant to the cause – be silent.
The second case that put Nashville in the national eye came courtesy or our city’s most noted university’s athletics department. Vanderbilt University sent the tweet below from their football team’s official account to almost 28,000 followers with hopes of inspiring their players and fans as pre-season camp began.
Tweets and graphics like this to inspire players and fans are the norm these days on athletic department social media accounts, and many departments use this medium very well to communicate their message. I myself did a lot of this while I worked in sports information at UT Martin.
However, Vanderbilt could not have picked a worse combination of five words to link to its football program. Four of their now-former players were involved in a highly public rape case that has been talked about nationally for over two years, and two of them are currently in the news on a near daily basis as they are heading into a second trial that will take place right in the middle of football season. The goal of any communication from the football team should be to distance itself as far away from the trial as possible. This did just the opposite.
As one might expect, the reaction online was as critical as it was swift. The instant backlash came in from national outlets like Deadspin…
Dammit, Vanderbilt football: http://t.co/ZdNSallWDT
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) August 6, 2015
… and in a flood from Vanderbilt football fans…
The tweet was wisely deleted from the @VandyFootball account in less than 20 minutes of first appearing, but thanks to screen shots it will still live on forever. Almost two hours later, Vandy football tweeted out an apology.
We apologize for today’s tweet. It’s not a comment about sexual assault. Sex without permission is always wrong and not accepted. (1/2)
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) August 6, 2015
Sexual assault is not acceptable at Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt Athletics and Vanderbilt Football. (2/2)
— Vanderbilt Football (@VandyFootball) August 6, 2015
On a day that the Commodores opened pre-season camp, what is happening on the practice field is the last thing being talked about. This was an unforced error that could have been easily avoided by simply thinking through the context of the graphic and lingering public image of the program.
In a social media world, where the only thing moving faster than a Twitter timeline is the reader’s attention span, social media managers have to remember that messages like this have to be able to stand alone. The terrible quote in the Vandy football graphic is a snip-it of a broader quote from their head coach Derek Mason who a few weeks earlier used the line in reference to not needing the permission of pundits for Vanderbilt to become relevant in football again.
Back in Nashville and the work never stops. This team wants,what some say it can't obtain. Sorry…We don't need your permission! ⚓️👇
— Derek Mason (@CoachDerekMason) July 21, 2015
Given the program’s recent associations with sexual assaults and rape trials, better wording could have certainly been chosen at that time as well, but in that instance at least it was put into more context. The removal of that context, and trying to let the line stand alone (without thinking of the additional outside meaning) is why it went from inspirational to fiasco in a hurry.
The most important takeaway for social media managers from this 24 hour period in Nashville is a reminder of how important it is to be both vigilant before you even craft a message for your brand and to avoid the pitfalls of convenience at the expenses of your brand’s image.
Put simply, remember what your mother taught you when you were young “Think before you