I didn’t plan it this way, but it’s remarkable timing that my only DigiWriMo post that discusses US politics falls on the day of the presidential election. While it remains to be seen if social media influenced this election one way or another, the 2012 presidential election will go down in the history books as a fascinating case study for how to and not to use social media.
From binders full of women becoming an online sensation, to Mitt Romney’s misspelled iPhone app, to a number of other social media gaffs, this election has given those with an interest in social media plenty of food for thought.
Today I’m going to focus on one example that shows why twitter should be used carefully. With many companies, campaigns, and institutions twitter can be somewhat of an afterthought – something that can be safely outsourced to an intern. After the second presidential debate, KitchenAid demonstrated why you should be careful who you will access to the company twitter account.
During the presidential debate President Obama made a reference to his grandmother, an important figure in his life, who died several days before she could watch her grandson be elected president. Minutes after Obama made that remark, @KitchenAidUSA shocked and confused its 24,000 followers with a tweet that read, “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’. #nbcpolitics.”
If you’re like me the KitchenAid brand conjures images of baking, standing mixers, and happy domestic scenes, not crass political vitriol.
Shortly after it was posted the offending tweet was deleted. But unfortunately for KitchenAid the internet is always paying attention. The story spread like wildfire across the web and within hours KitchenAid issued the following apology, “Deepest apologies for an irresponsible tweet that is in no way a representation of the brand’s opinion. #nbcpolitics.”
Following this apology KitchenAid issued two more apologies, “I would like to personally apologize to President@BarackObama, his family and everyone on Twitter for the offensive tweet sent earlier” and “@BAHjournalist My name is Cynthia Soledad, and I’m the head of KitchenAid. I’d like to talk on record about what happened. Pls DM me. Thx.”
The company made the best of a bad situation, taking full responsibility and offering to speak directly with customers about the issue. In an official statement KitchenAid stated that the offending tweet was mistaken posted by a (former) member of their ‘twitter team’ to under the official KitchenAid account rather than the staffer’s personal account.
“During the debate tonight, a member of our Twitter team mistakenly posted an offensive tweet from the KitchenAid handle instead of a personal handle. The tasteless joke in no way represents our values at KitchenAid, and that person won’t be tweeting for us anymore. That said, I lead the KitchenAid brand, and I take responsibility for the whole team. I am deeply sorry to President Obama, his family, and the Twitter community for this careless error. Thanks for hearing me out.”
When it comes to social media, bad news tends to travel a lot faster than good news. I doubt KitchenAid ever had so much written about them before this incident. While they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, being know for tweeting offensive things about the President’s dead grandmother isn’t something most brands would want to be associated with.
This story shows just how important it is to allocate sufficient resources to one’s social media presence. Twitter isn’t something that can be done half-way. If you want to create true social media engagement you have to take it seriously. While it is easy to accidentally tweet under the wrong account (I know I’ve done it when I’m in a hurry), companies that value their social media brand image should take the utmost care to hire people who will represent their brand in the most professional way possible.
Whether you’re a big brand, an individual, or a moderate institution, there’s no such thing as getting away with a mistake on the internet. If you write something you don’t want the rest of the world to see, prepare for it to appear at the least opportune time. Treat everything you write digitally (be it an email, text, tweet, or blog post) as something that could ultimately be seen by millions of people.
This applies to everyone, not just large companies. For academics, like me, who are trying to cultivate a professional web presence remember that it’s a lot easier to destroy your image than it is to build it. I can’t tell you how many tweets or blog posts I’ve been tempted to write but have ultimately decided against after some careful consideration.
Take a page from Thumper’s book, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”