July 25, 2012
Now that the dust is beginning to settle in Aurora, Colorado, let’s talk about the danger of (a) auto-Tweeting (or any kind of auto-posting to social media), and (b) the importance of being aware of what’s going on in the world before you post your message.
Last Friday morning’s tweet by the National Rifle Association: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”
It was posted at 9:20 AM EDT. Worse, it wasn’t taken down until around 12:30 PM EDT, a full twelve hours after the carnage in began to unfold. By 9:00 AM the entire world was shocked and horrified by the massacre (with the obvious exception, of course, of that NRA Tweeter). This is tantamount to someone asking a friend at quarter to noon on September 11, 2001: “Hey, what are you doing for lunch? Let’s treat ourselves to a nice meal at Windows on the World!”
There had been some initial speculation that the NRA had scheduled the Tweet to auto-publish (in fact, as they say, “there’s an app for that” called Hootsuite, which lets web publishers schedule tweets to post automatically at a preordained date and time). However, it turns out the Tweet was manually posted by someone who was unaware of the shooting. Someone who apparently hadn’t turned on the radio or television, hadn’t visited any major web news portals like Yahoo!, or indeed hadn’t had contact with any sentient human beings that morning.
The NRA clearly dropped the media relations ball on Friday in more than one aspect. But first, three important lessons are the takeaway from this one unfortunate Tweet:
- NEVER auto-post on the Internet. Tweeting a line on Twitter, while not as formal as sending out a press release to the AP and the television networks, is just as impactful, if not more so. In fact, it has the potential of reaching an even wider audience, since press releases sent to media organizations are (or at least are supposed to be) heavily vetted and edited — if they’re even run at all. Posting to social media is an instant message sent directly to the public at large, circumventing all the usual journalistic filters of the Fourth Estate. It’s an enormous responsibility not to be taken lightly, and certainly never handed over to a computer server to “automatically” post (it’s as dangerous as handing over control of the outflow of money from your checking account to an auto-bill pay service, something else I vehemently oppose, but that’s a discussion for another time).
- Business and organization owners and chief executives need to understand that those who are tasked with Tweeting and posting to Facebook are just as important and powerful in conveying your message to the outside world as your executive vice president of communications. I realize many executives have been slow to catch up with social media, and the temptation is always there to just hand off your social media presence to the the organization’s most tech-savvy members (who often are also the youngest, cheapest, and least experienced in terms of actual media relations). This is as much of a mistake as having an intern handle a high-profile press conference. Even if you’re not personally on Twitter or Facebook, and even if you’ve been blithely unaware of the social media revolution, it’s out there, and millions are following it. I repeat, it’s a responsibility not to be taken lightly.
- Whoever is responsible for your social media presence (and frankly, all of your media relations) needs to look around before Tweeting, messaging, sending out a press release, or contacting news organizations directly. Before you hit “send” or “publish”, just snap on the TV, the radio, or take one quick glance at the Yahoo! home page to make sure the world isn’t blowing up. It’s a good rule of thumb.
But the damage wasn’t limited for the NRA to its unfortunately-timed Tweet. Even after it knew about the Colorado massacre (or at least whoever had the presence of mind to retract that Tweet), the website remained unchanged, with smiling faces at gun shows adorning its home page. The NRA missed a golden opportunity to soften its controversial message. The classy thing to do (without compromising its message) would have been to take down the entire website for 24 hours, replaced with a simple message like “The NRA grieves the loss of life in Aurora, Colorado, and extends its deepest sympathies to the victims and their families.”
Short and sweet. It may even have won over a few converts, particularly after the Tweet gaffe. Opportunity missed.