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To Tweet or Not to Tweet: 7 Lessons from Twitter Disasters
What's your social media protocol when big news breaks? Make sure you know before you tweet something you can't take back.
To Tweet or Not to Tweet


This post originally appeared on OPEN Forum, an online community providing small business owners with information and advice to help them do more business.”



For small businesses struggling to manage the ins and outs of social media, the immediacy of Twitter presents huge opportunities for PR faux pas. When Twitter’s going nuts with news about a topic, whether it's the Boston Marathon bombings or the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, how should your business react? Can you gain media attention or boost sales with cheeky tweets related to the incident, as some businesses did during Hurricane Sandy—or is that too risky a strategy? Here are some lessons on how to keep up with Twitter without destroying your brand’s image.


Be aware. A boutique in the United Kingdom got massive blowback when, shortly after the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, it tweeted:


#Aurora is trending; clearly about our Kim K inspired Aurora Dress ;-) Shop (link to dress)


The company later apologized and claimed it didn’t know why “Aurora” was trending. True or not, you need to slow down and take a moment to find out why something is gaining traction before you comment about it.


De-automate. Hours after the Aurora shooting, the National Rifle Association tweeted:


Good morning, shooters. Weekend plans? Happy Friday!


Following widespread outrage, the NRA deleted not only the tweet, but also its account and went dark on Twitter for more than a week. The organization said the post had been scheduled via HootSuite.


When a tragedy or disaster unfolds, immediately stop all scheduled tweets. Otherwise, at best you look like you don’t know how to use Twitter or, at worst, you appear to be completely out of touch with the world around you.


Pay attention. Whether de-automating would have helped the NRA is questionable, since the organization also said the person who tweeted the offensive tweet hadn’t heard about the shooting. That’s inexcusable—if your business is going to be on Twitter, you need to know what’s going on. Yes, I know you’re busy, but check in with the news regularly (on Twitter or off). If something huge like a hurricane is trending, you’ll know and can adjust your tweets as needed.


Time it right. When Hurricane Sandy was brewing, some businesses actually did an admirable job tying their businesses to hurricane preparedness. Pabst Blue Ribbon, for instance, made jokes about how beer could be part of a hurricane preparedness kit. A hardware or grocery store could do something similar by tweeting about how they have the supplies people need to stock up for the storm.


The key to this approach is being helpful, but not doing a hard sell—especially if your product or service isn’t related to the event. It’s one thing to tweet about having products people need to stock up for the storm, and another for a clothing retailer to tweet, as American Apparel did:


In case you’re bored during the storm. 20% off everything for the next 36 hours.


In general, trying to sell something on the back of a disaster or tragedy is just not a good idea. Instead …


Offer help. If you really want to link your business to a disaster or tragedy, tweet something useful or tell your customers how they can help. When the Boston Marathon bombs went off, Runner’s World magazine immediately set a standard for how to tweet in the face of tragedy. The magazine tweeted warnings to runners as the bombs were going off. It immediately stopped any promotional tweets and instead tweeted updates, information on how to donate to funds for the injured, and inspirational quotes.


Keep it real. Think about how relevant the event or issue is to your business. For instance, there’s no way Runner’s World could NOT tweet about the Boston Marathon bombings, but if you own a restaurant in Las Vegas, you probably didn’t need to. Even before you tweet about something trending—like DOMA—stop and think. Is your brand truly relevant to the issue, or are you just jumping on a bandwagon to benefit from Twitter traffic?


Of course not everyone considers overturning DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 a good thing. Last week Dan Cathy, the president and COO of Chick-fil-A tweeted his displeasure with the Supreme Court’s decisions writing, “Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies."  The tweet was quickly taken down because, according to a company spokesperson, it was a “personal comment.” It's likely the company didn’t want to stir up the same passions it did last year when Cathy’s anti-homosexual remarks led to boycotts and counter-protests. But that begs the question of why Cathy felt the need to broadcast his immediate reaction. And deleting a tweet as controversial as this one makes it appear you have something to hide. Perhaps Cathy should have heeded the next tip.


Say nothing. Social media gives us the opportunity to put in our two cents on absolutely everything. I’ve got news for you: If the country is turning to Twitter to learn about a mass murder, disaster, social issue or breaking news, they’re not breathlessly waiting for you to weigh in on the topic—or anything else.


When Twitter is lit up with breaking news, no one is going to notice your tweets. So don’t waste time trying to stand out amidst the clutter. It’s okay to “go dark” on social media for a while. I know that may sound like heresy in our over-sharing world, but as Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”


Photo: Getty Images



The opinions expressed in this article are those of its individual writer, and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of American Express Canada or Amex Bank of Canada. Third party web sites may have privacy and security policies different from Amex Bank of Canada. Links to other web sites does not imply the endorsement or approval of such web sites.

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