Here are some simple thoughts to help you decide how you should act and what you should do when that mis-Tweet happens.
So you Tweeted from the wrong account
Maybe you have two accounts – one for a close group of friends and one that is public – or maybe you Tweet on behalf of a brand as well as in a personal capacity. Tweeting from the wrong account is a common occurrence for many people and is easily done. In many cases this won’t be a problem – okay maybe you just told your friends all about some special offer your company has on this week or pointed them to a blog post they probably aren’t interested in, but that doesn’t really matter. Nor does it necessarily matter if you tell your brand’s followers about a football match you are at or what you are watching on TV – as long as these Tweets aren’t hugely inappropriate they reinforce that there is a real person behind this branded account who does real stuff in their real life. In these cases, a simple (possibly humourous) acknowledgement that you sent the Tweet to the wrong place should suffice. And remember to not do it again!
Things become more difficult if you have said something inappropriate to the audience (or just inappropriate per se). If you’ve tweeted something to the world that you meant only for some close friends you need to make sure you delete the message, apologise and apologise to anybody who mentions it or complains to you. If you’re a brand and an employee has done the same then the same rules probably apply: delete the Tweet, apologise and apologise to everybody who mentions it. If you’re a brand you might also want to consider if the employee’s conduct required disciplinary action and it may be worth including this information in your apology Tweet.
So you sent a Direct Message to the world by mistake
A mistake many novice users make and that is also easy to do. Again, there m
ay be no problem here – if the Tweet isn’t offensive to the audience that sees it (and isn’t confidential) then apologise and maybe just leave it. The problem comes when the Tweet isn’t appropriate for everybody to see, and if it was a DM in the first place this is highly likely to be the case. Once something is public others will be retweeting it and mentioning it so you cannot just pretend the Tweet didn’t happen. You can just follow the same process as above: delete the Tweet, apologise and explain to those that mentions it and be more careful in future. You may also choose, especially if you are new to Twitter, to some some humility (“Looks like I’m still getting used to Twitter, doesn’t it…”).
You should also consider what you are using DMs for and what you are saying – maybe what you said was better off Twitter completely.
So you regret something you said on Twitter
Finally, and the most common situation, you say something that you later regret. Maybe you Tweeting something late at night that you wouldn’t say in the cold light of day. Maybe you said something that sounds worse than you meant. Or maybe your conversation should never have been public in the first place. Just as with a mis-Tweet, if you say something you later regret then you can’t just pretend it never happened. People may be retweeting it and mentioning it already. One thing you should consider, however, is whether you making an issue of the regretted Tweet will actually make things worse. Some Tweets (especially those late at night) may go unread and as long as they are misjudged rather than offensive or libelous it may be that you just leave things.
However, in most cases you will need to act. If what you have said is offensive to some of your audience and you regret it you should probably apologise – be open and honest that it was a mistake and you regret it now, contact people directly with the same apology. And then think carefully about how and when you use Twitter.
We all make mistakes and people understand that. But we should think carefully about what we say on any public channel (our personal accounts or a branded account) and think if it would be better to just not say it at all in the first place.