Accuracy; Integrity; Transparency — A Social Media Lesson For Anthony Weiner (and Everyone)
June 7, 2011 1 Comment
“… but at the length truth will out.”
– from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by William Shakespeare
Those words, the bane of politicians, ad men, PR flacks, marketing gurus, titans of business and wayward spouses throughout the ages, are as true today as they were when written 415 years ago. But instead of waiting for a pamphlet to be printed on a 16th Century mechanical press (the origin of the word “Press” regarding news) and hand delivered, read aloud or nailed on a church door, what happens today can spread across the globe via social media before the next sunrise.
Those following me for a while know that I am a social media professional who strongly suggests to companies, organizations and yes, politicians, that to take advantage of the vast benefits social media has to offer while avoiding its pitfalls you need two things: 1) to conduct your social media (both brand related and personal use) with accuracy; integrity and transparency and, 2) to consult with or have on board a social media professional to lead the way.
Which brings us to U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who shorts(sic)-circuited his political plans by engaging in questionable social media and phone-based relationships. For a politician — (one of the few professions where you are expected to always be on the job), this can be a career-breaker causing us to collectively sigh, “What were you thinking?” Regardless, let’s take a look at what he admittedly did and the social media pillars he ignored:
Accuracy: What? I didn’t mean to… Oh crap!
Let’s take accuracy, for example. Apparently, the congress-member intended to send a link to a picture of his “brief encounter” to a college student in Seattle. But it is likely that instead of clicking “Direct Message” in his Twitter client he clicked “Reply” instead, making the communication available to all of the 58K followers he had at the time (at the time of this entry he nows has 70K, a 33% increase in one week since the scandal unfolded).
These types of mistakes in execution happen all the time For example, in March, the PR firm NMS lost the Chrysler account because an employee, intending to send a tweet about the poor driving ability of Detroit residents from his personal Twitter account, sent it from the @ChryslerAutos account by mistake. Job lost; account lost. Accuracy matters.
Integrity: Picture? What picture?
Realizing his error, Weiner quickly deleted the tweet from his Twitter account. But, in many ways, that is like trying to un-ring a bell. The more followers you have, the more likely your message will be seen, and many of those are preserved or saved (especially if the subject matter is salacious). Re-tweeting (forwarding the message you receive from me, to people who follow you) gets the network effect going and the damage is done. The big error? When confronted, denying knowledge of what happened. A knee-jerk Bart Simpson like response (“I didn’t do it. No one saw me do it. You can’t prove I did it”) such as his initial excusee that his account was hacked, and further denial of his hanky-panky Hanes merely served to deepen the hole he created. Chrysler, too, tried the “hack” excuse – even though no hack actually occurred. On the other hand, designer Kenneth Cole handled his social media faux pas well.
Transparency: Be who you say you are; do what you say you’ll do
Social media is self moderating in that its users are very sensitive to attempts to take advantage of them and will vociferously point out fraudulent anti-social behavior when they discover it. And they always do. Whether’s the CEO of a natural foods supermarket bad-mouthing the competition or a couple tweeting from K-Marts across the country being exposed as employees of its PR firm as Shakespeare said, truth will out. Of course, in this case perhaps Rep. Weiner was too transparent.
Best Practice: Social media is run by people; people are human; humans make mistakes. Before that happens have a plan already in place on how to best handle it. Own up, apologize and learn from that and the failure of others. Do it sooner, rather than later, you’re going to have to do it eventually.
Just ask Anthony Weiner.