I saw this question in a Twitter chat recently.

People are still asking these questions? What does that say about the state of business – the state of leadership – in 2015?

There clearly is an ongoing disconnect between social media as it happens amongst friends and ‘offline connections,’ and how it’s perceived (and understood) by the folks in the corner offices. Many of them are still blissfully analog while their organizations are digitally evolving right under their very noses. This is a serious disconnect.

I’ve always argued that, for organizations to fully adapt to the social age, they need fully adapted leaders – leaders who understand the need to move with the times. My mantra is: “unless leaders are willing to change themselves and embrace social media, the organizations they lead will never become truly social businesses.”

This takes us back to the Twitter question above. It shows that too many leaders still don’t know what the hell is going on in the real world. Would they put their youngest employees in charge of their PR, or corporate communications, or marketing? Of course not – they’d hire experienced professionals for those roles. So why even consider putting their youngest, least experienced staff in charge of their social media?

Because social media is ‘wacky’; it’s ‘cool’; it’s what the ‘kids do’. Seriously? What decade are people living in?

Just because the tone of social interaction is often chatty doesn’t mean it’s not important. Social media often can reach far more people than official broadcast channels like PR and marketing. Other people can pick up on what’s said, add their own comments, share it with their followers – and so on.  The message is amplified. That’s great if the message is positive; not so great if it’s negative.

To illustrate my point I’m listing four examples of how things can go very wrong, very quickly on social media. I’ll also explain how these mistakes can usually be avoided. Each of these social media ‘fails’ went viral within minutes and, while most were deleted fairly quickly, the damage was done, copies were made – and the stories live on to this day. Three of them were genuine cock ups, one was deliberate sabotage.

Kenneth Cole Cairo Twitter

Clearly, the person in charge of social media at Kenneth Cole wasn’t briefed on PR and comms policies – and wasn’t up to speed on their global politics. No PR is bad PR? Nonsense. This tweet was dumb, dumb, dumb and I’m damn sure it wasn’t sanctioned by the PR department.

What can you say about the CFO of Twitter not knowing how to use Twitter? Anthony Noto sent this highly sensitive tweet thinking it was a DM (direct message). Oops. Cue hundreds of re-tweets and lots of embarrassment all round.

Twitter CFO DM Fail

Ah, pissed off employees – don’t you just love ‘em? Not if they hold the keys to your Twitter account and your ‘Marketing Director’ thinks you can “turn off Twitter”. This was the infamous (in the UK at least) #hmvXFactorFiring saga. HMV fired 60 staff but didn’t know how to control the Twitter account, resulting in a string of tweets. It’s hilarious – but not if you’re the Marketing Director (or the CEO) of HMV.

HMV Twitter Fail

Finally, there are the badly timed auto-tweets. This happened when the NRA sent this tweet out the day after the Aurora shootings. Insensitive or what? When setting up automated tweets (which many organizations and individuals now do) think very carefully of the consequences if things go wrong.

NRA Aurora Twitter Fail

These four examples are just the tip of the iceberg – there are hundreds more online.

Three of the mistakes above could have been avoided if the person in charge of the Twitter account knew what they were doing and was ‘on message.’ The HMV example is different – the person who sent the tweets knew exactly what they were doing, but the poor old Marketing Manager should have been up to speed with Twitter and should have had password access to engage damage control mode pronto.

So, what are the key takeaways from all of this?

  • Hire experienced professionals to manage your corporate social media accounts and make sure they are fully conversant with PR and comms messages
  • Provide social media training to everyone else so they don’t do an ‘Anthony Noto’
  • Keep your employees happy and hopefully they don’t go postal
  • Auto-post with care
  • Get the C-suite sold on social media as a serious channel – then they won’t ask for the most junior person to run the accounts

The bottom line is pretty simple: everyone, from the top down, should be engaged in managing social media to some extent; residing it in one silo, or with one age group, is not going to benefit the organization in the short-, intermediate-, or long-term.

That’s it. It’s not complicated. But you’d be amazed how many organizations can’t even get these basics right.

About Damian Corbet

With almost 20 years’ experience in B2B PR and communications and, more recently, social media, Damian helps organizations and leaders connect with stakeholders.

He’s especially interested in the impact of social media on the C-Suite. He recently founded The Social C-Suite (http://thesocialcsuite.net/) to help leaders get the most out of social media for personal branding, networking and business intelligence. As well as the website he also manages The Social C-Suite LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook groups and @TheSocialCsuite Twitter account.

Damian was born and raised in Zimbabwe but now lives in London. Follow him on Twitter at @DamianCorbet.

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