Think of social media missteps as icebergs, and a campaign as a sturdily-built boat. A good PR team stands watch for potential dangers, peering down at the dangerous caps and steering the ship in wide curves around the dangers they see. But in the furor and heat of a political campaign, even the most dedicated watchers can tire and accidentally allow the campaign to graze the ice. Suddenly, an unfortunately-worded tweet from the candidate’s account appears in newspaper articles, television pieces, social media posts, and the PR team finds itself sheepishly standing in the campaign manager’s office, promising to fix the problem at hand. Apparently, they already fired the intern who sent the ill-advised tweet.
The problem is, firing an overtired intern isn’t going to solve the issue at hand. At the busiest, most frenetic point of a campaign, even the most experienced PR manager could potentially make an embarrassing slip out of stress or exhaustion. Punishing the person who made a sloppy social media choice won’t make it go away; a PR team would be much better served by turning a thoughtful eye towards the situation, and calmly gauging the team’s next steps. Here, I outline the basic steps a PR team should take when developing a strategy for social media missteps.
Set up a better daily system.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the best social media mistakes are those that never take place. Have a system for checking future social media activities in place: designate specific post scheduling services (Hootsuite, Buffer, etc.) for each social media property and assign a staffer to review all scheduled posts prior to posting. Careful scrutiny will catch any potentially embarrassing mistakes, and save time and trouble later.
That said, if social media missteps do occur…
Consider the situation.
How long ago did the post go public? Have many people seen it? Is it a minor mistake such as a typo, or is it an issue-based controversy?
These are the questions you need to ask and answer before developing a recovery strategy. If the post was scheduled, rather than posted, you can simply delete it from the social queue before anyone sees it. If it was posted the day before, however, and has since been picked up by news outlets and scores of social media followers, you may make your viewers think you’re avoiding responsibility by deleting the problematic post. Remember, followers may still have screenshots of your tweet even after you delete it.
Put a temporary hold on all scheduled social media activity.
Ignoring – or appearing to ignore – an issue will not make it disappear. Make sure to cancel all of a candidate’s scheduled posts following a major social media misstep in order to avoid the appearance of not caring about the controversy at hand.
Gauge the room.
Decide whether you need to respond. If your problem is a simple misspelling, you likely won’t need to do more than correct the mistake and move on. However, if the problem sparked considerable conversation, the PR team should consult with the campaign manager and candidate to develop a thoughtful response.
Respond and move on.
Consider the campaign’s response carefully. If a real, honest mistake was made, apologize for it. Reacting defensively or with anger will only inflame the issue, and lead to greater PR problems down the road. Consider the issue carefully, and deliver a well-thought-out, crafted response that reflects well upon the candidate.
The best social media missteps are the ones that never occur; but even in the best-run campaigns, mistakes are bound to happen. When they do, the campaign’s PR team must be prepared to react appropriately and handle the situation.