Last week’s shooting in Aurora left the nation in shock and renewed discussions about gun control. In the midst of this terrible tragedy, a poorly timed Tweet came from the NRA: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” The Tweet was quickly removed and the NRA issued a statement that a single person unaware of the news sent the Tweet. Insensitive as that Tweet was, it appears to have been an accident. I’m sure the person who sent it feels terrible.
But for those of us in social media, the lesson here is a little more nuanced. The Tweet appears to have come from the Hootsuite management platform and has been widely speculated to have been scheduled in advance of the news.
The lesson learned here for social media professionals isn’t that you should read the news (though you should). The lesson is about internal operations and scheduling Tweets.
Avoiding Your Own Social Media Lesson When Scheduling Posts
I’m not going to say that scheduling Tweets is poor practice. I do it. I think its a practical solution, particularly organizations. I recommend it. But I do so with caveats. The problem with scheduling posts is that unless a post is replied to, clicked on or mentioned, it tends to evaporate from the scheduler’s consciousness. That’s the real danger of scheduling Tweets. The problem isn’t scheduling posts, its in the way its handled in crisis. If you’re going to schedule posts, you really need a plan. Hootsuite and other management platforms allow the scheduler to review scheduled Tweets, but actively reviewing posts is often forgotten. Further, its possible that the post could be scheduled for the same timing as breaking news, making it difficult to prevent the Tweet from going out. We have to stay conscious of even the most seemingly innocuous messages.
So what should post schedulers do? This speaks to internal processes.
Internal Processes for Scheduling Tweets
The NRA stated that a single person was responsible for the Tweet. That’s probably true. In most companies, businesses and nonprofits there is only one person managing an account, that person is rarely a senior communications executive. But what can be done to prevent this type of accident?
1) Access and Training in Platforms
We just shouldn’t ask a single person to be solely responsible for public messaging. Its not practical. What if news breaks while someone is on vacation? Shouldn’t every organization have a back-up plan?
TEAM UP. First and foremost, at least two people should have ready access to the account. At least one of those people should be a senior communications executive who understands how to use the platforms, and can make a judgement call quickly. Give all appropriate people access by making the emails and passwords readily available to executives including legal.
LISTEN. Also, use Google Alerts. You can set Google Alerts to let you know immediately when news breaks. Alerts should come in email and phone. That simple step would have saved the NRA and Celeb Boutique from embarrassment on Friday, when they thought the reason “Aurora” was trending was because of a dress designed by Kim Kardashian. Had Celeb Boutique been watching keywords, they would have known to stay out of the Aurora conversations all together, leaving the space for those who were discussing the more important issue at hand. Of course, they could have also done a Twitter search to see WHY Aurora was trending. The more you listen, the more you’ll know.
You can find out just as quickly as everyone else. The power of social media is that sometimes news breaks there. Get your keywords ready and start listening to those conversations using Hootsuite or similar. The more you listen, the more you’ll know how to filter out the irrelevant information from the important information. Include major and local news outlets to your listening as well. Social media listening is a proactive action. There are tools (enterprise level) which will proactively alert you when something is blowing up. But in the absence of a pricey tool like this, you’ll have to make up for it with proactive listening.
TRAIN. Training on these tools should be on-going to reflect changes to the tools (which are constantly changing) While tools like Hootsuite offer team access, which can be helpful, this is useless unless everyone is trained on the platform. Almost ALL of these platforms have a hand-held device application, so teams should be trained on using the platform from desktop as well as hand-held devices. Disasters don’t always happen during business hours, so these tools are helpful because even if the team isn’t at the same location, or at their desk-top computers, multiple people can check scheduled posts when news breaks and respond accordingly to inquires and questions directed to the organization.
2) Crisis Communication Plan
A lot of companies, even those using social media, have not prepared for social media during a crisis. Yet, this should be one of the first things they do. Be ready. Disasters and mistakes happen. Often at the same time.
STOP and THINK. When relevant news breaks, internal process should include a simple step 1: the very first thing on the list for communications professionals should be to check the scheduled posts, and pause all outgoing messages. Social media can be used effectively in crisis, but consideration and thoughtfulness should be part of the equation. Yet, these are hard to do in a crisis, so the crisis communication plan should actually be practiced, just like a fire drill. Granted, some organizations have a higher likelihood of crisis than others, but that doesn’t mean all businesses shouldn’t be ready. Take for example again, the Tweet from Celeb Boutique; I bet it never occurred to them that they would find themselves in the cross-hairs of a national crisis. But some simple steps would have prevented embarrassment.
PREPARE. We just never know where diaster may strike. We should think ahead about how social media could be used at an organization. At Virginia Tech’s shooting last year the college’s student newspaper used social media to keep media, students and everyone updated from their respective dorm rooms. This on-the-ground coverage made up for the fact that the website wasn’t usable. They received rave reviews for their quick thinking. In the Virginia Tech case, it wasn’t a plan, it was lucky. Same goes for Police in Aurora as they scrambled to figure out how to best use social media in the midst of the chaos. Social media can be a major assest for on-the-ground communication and crisis planning should consider how that can be turned to an advantage.
HONESTY & TRANSPARENCY ABOVE ALL ELSE. In the case of a crisis which directly impacts the organization, transparency and immediacy are important, and this is why a senior communications executive should be involved right from the start. There just isn’t time to waste to tell the story over and over internally. In the case of the NRA, had someone been able to quickly unschedule that tweet and send one instead that said “We are thinking about today’s Aurora shooting victims. Out of respect for them & their families, we will go dark on social media today.” That would have bought the NRA time to develop an official response while at the same time acknowledging the tragedy, because no matter how you feel about gun control/rights, Friday’s shooting was a tragedy.
APOLOGIZE. EARLY. Finally, plan for a response if one slips past you. Understand what can and can’t be done and be prepared to use both social media and the traditional media for those responses. And be prepared to apologize and respond to your actions. Mistakes do happen. Its likely that a mistake is brewing at this very moment. But mistakes can often be minimized with a simple apology, something I deeply wish the NRA had done.