A Life Lesson In Social Media Mistakes

Dr. Phil JumbleTo err is human, to delete-tweet is a mortal sin.

This is the latest lesson from Oprah’s TV psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, known simply to millions of fans as “Dr. Phil.”

According to USA Today, 0n Aug. 20, a tweet went out from Dr. Phil’s Twitter account that read: “If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.”

The twitter-verse quickly exploded in online outrage at the question. Shortly thereafter, someone in Dr. Phil’s organization deleted the tweet.

In the religion that is social media, deleting a post – especially one sparking controversy – is a mortal sin. The dust up from the deletion has caused more outrage and media attention then the original issue, which was the public debate over the appropriateness of the question.

For public-facing individuals and organizations, the best social media crisis management advice is to have a plan before your very first tweet or post. And if you didn’t start with a crisis plan, make it a priority to develop one right away.

Your public relations team should work with you to develop mock scenarios with proposed concepts for responses (not necessarily verbatim responses, but a basic concept or idea with a list of accompanying “Do Not Do” items).

There should be protocols for who is informed and how quickly, and from where the ultimate decision on a response needs to come. Remember: social media is an environment of immediacy, so a social media crisis requires swift but thoughtful action. If you have a plan in place, a timely response isn’t as big a problem as trying to respond without a plan or guidance.

Often, as should have been the case with Dr. Phil’s team, a simple apology is best. Arguing your intent – however well intended – via social media almost always exacerbates the situation. Apologize – sincerely and while avoiding “corporate speak” – and move on.

And as not enough brands and celebrities have learned, once the error is out there and has gained any level of attention, deleting your post only makes you look that much more … well, evil, at least in the eyes of avid social media followers. You won’t appear honest. You won’t appear trustworthy. You won’t appear to worth following.

The damage to your reputation in trying to hide your social media transgression is always infinitely worse than just acknowledging the error responsibly and working your plan to move past it responsibly.

Crisis management – online and off – is a centerpiece of our practice at Kimball Communications. We’ve prevented crises, and we’ve managed them. However, the best plan is always to have a plan. It’s obvious Dr. Phil’s team didn’t have a crisis communications plan in place, and the resulting controversy shows what can happen in that scenario.

If it can happen to celebrities like Dr. Phil who has a team managing his social media presences, it can happen to less high-profile individuals and business as well. Are you prepared?

Ask any doctor – psychologist or otherwise – an ounce of prevention (or sound social media planning in this case) is worth a pound of cure.

About Rod Hughes

I'm a writer, bibliophile, witty wordsmith and generally a commentator on the world around me. Professionally, I am a partner and vice president of a Greater Philadelphia-based public relations agency that helps businesses get their messages out into the world in a positive, effective way. Kimball Hughes Public Relations also specializes in helping organizations manage crisis communications situations. Contact me at rhughes@kimballpr.com.
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