Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hide The Weiner

Once again, dear friends, it falls upon the big, beefy shoulders of the Real Public Relations staff to talk a little current events and provide a little analysis and "lessons-learned" moments from the latest social media celebrity scandal.
As you'll recall, not long ago, an employee at Chrysler lost their job after dropping F-bombs on Twitter about the apparent lack of driving expertise by the lovely folks in Detroit.  The individual in question said they made a mistake, that they had intended to make the "offensive Tweet"on their personal account, NOT the actual Chrysler Twitter feed.  
Regardless, the unfortunate twit...errr...tweeter, was unceremoniously fired and a Detroit PR agency had lost one of their biggest accounts after the dust had settled.  At the time, this space discussed Twitter etiquette and went over some of the Do's and Dont's of the Twitterverse.
Fast forward a few months and lo and behold, another poor soul has found himself in hot water due to a rather "racy" if not x-rated set of Twitter postings.  This time, though, it's not some faceless drone working with Chrysler.  No, my friends, it's a politician, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner from New York, to be exact.  
 "Now I'll just send that as a direct message...D'OH!"
By now, you've probably heard the news.  Congressman meets lovely young lady on Facebook, Congressman flirts with lovely young lady, Congressman sends pictures of his underwear-clad junk and bare chest to lovely young lady.  Just like Disney would have written it. 
Only there was a problem with all of this.  First...said Congressman is recently married.  Second...Said Congressman's new wife had no idea he was sending photos to the lovely young lady.  Third...Congressman lied about the photos when they magically appeared on a government watchdog site.
We are not here to pile on Congressman Weiner or to judge his actions.  There are enough people doing that already.  We ARE here, though to point out to small business owners and non-profits just how powerful, effective and yes, sometimes dangerous, Twitter and the online universe can be.
First, here is an excerpt from a USA Today article:

NY Congressman Admits to Lying About Lewd Photograph

Congressman Weiner said he had meant to send the photo as a direct message to the female college student and “panicked” when he realized he had instead sent it out to all of his Twitter followers. He did a whole day of television interviews last week in which he repeatedly denied that he had sent the photo, saying it was likely a prank and that his Twitter account had likely been hacked.
Let's take a look at this a little closer.  According to Congressman Weiner, he intended to send the photos as a direct message.  Instead, he sent the photos as an @reply, which are visible to all followers of his account.  Thus, instead of a single recipient getting the photos, EVERYONE got to see the kind of heat the Congressman packs in and out of the house.
Listen, we all know that dealing with new technology can be confusing.  There are a lot of buttons and gizmo's and blinking dealio's on your Twitter pages, your Facebook pages, your Foursquare and blogs.  It's easy to make a mistake, it's human.  You're going to make them.  But here's the deal, when you make a mistake about a special your running, or when you're hosting an event, those are easily fixed and they likely won't ruin your company.  When you make a mistake about who to send your R-rated photos to, well, NOW you have some problems.

Know The Tweet!
It's been said here a million times, and it bears repeating again.  Only post those items which you want the world to see!  This means don't be tempted to post gossip about a co-worker, or your boss, or the company dress policy, or the fact that you're sleeping through meetings, or that sometimes you like to drive 130 through school zones unless you're perfectly okay with the entire world knowing about it.  This includes posting any lewd photos.  
Furthermore, it doesn't matter if it's Twitter, or Facebook or a blog or anywhere online.  If it's up there, it has the chance to be seen by those you don't want to see it.  It doesn't matter if it's private.  It doesn't matter if you don't think you're big enough for folks to care.  Because the fact of the matter is, SOMEONE WILL care.  This is particularly true if you post on your official company or organizational platforms.  But it also matters even if it's just your personal pages as well.
Congressman Weiner used his personal Blackberry and laptop computer to send the Tweets, did it on his own account, and apparently did all the photo-taking and posting on his own time.  Other than being a bit of a louse behind his wife's back, he didn't break any laws.  And yet, because of who he is, the photos were newsworthy...at least to a point.  
The fact is, Congressman Weiner didn't know Twitter well-enough to send his photos in such a way that only the recipient could see them.  And even if he had, who's to say that the lady in question wouldn't have sent those photos to others who would have posted them all over the internet anyway?  Weiner SHOULD have asked himself this question, "Would I care if the world saw these photos?"
Clearly the answer was yes.  In that case, he should have never sent them, on Twitter or anywhere else.  The lesson learned here, is that even if you don't think people are watching, or reading or paying attention, they are.  If you run a small business or non-profit you are in a position where people will be paying attention.  And even if you don't post the offending items on your official social media platforms, folks are watching your personal pages as well.  You are linked to your organization BECAUSE it's a small business or non-profit.  Most people don't make the separation, so you'd be smart not to either.  In essence, you ARE your organization.  Best to remember that always when you're posting anything on Facebook or Twitter or a blog, or anywhere else, even an online comment or letter to a publication. 

By the way, if you ever want to send a personal message on Twitter, just go to your Twitter page and at the top you'll see a tab that says "messages".  Click on that tab.  It will take you to a box where you'll type in the name of the person you want to send a direct message to.  Type in the name, then in the text box, type in your message.  DO NOT use the @ symbol in the text box and DO NOT reply to other messages with an @ reply.  Those messages can be seen by everyone.  Then again, don't send any messages you wouldn't  mind the wold seeing in the first place.

Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies:

As noted above, what Congressman Weiner did wasn't Earth-shattering.  He didn't kill his neighbor, shake a baby, steal money from orphans or spew racist slurs.  He simply sent some R-rated photos to a woman who wasn't his wife.  He didn't break any laws, he did something stupid, but then again, don't we all sometimes?

Again, we're not here to blast or defend Congressman Weiner.  However, when we look at his actions, we once again see some decisions that, from a PR and social media standpoint are downright felony stupid.

We've already looked at his decision to send the photos online in the first place.  But it's what he did after the photos were revealed that really put him into hot water.  He lied about it.

Listen, as we've said here before, you can make heinous mistakes and get away with it if you're upfront about it, apologize about it and have a plan in place so it won't happen again.  In situations like this, there really is no plan to put forth. It's not like Weiner is going to stand up behind a podium and say, "My wife will be monitoring all of my online activity from now on...oh, and I promise not to be a guy anymore...so, you know...I won't be doing stupid things from here on out."

That doesn't really fly.  And besides, since no laws were broken, no one outside of his immediate personal circle was hurt, a plan really isn't necessary here.  But what IS necessary is honesty and an apology.

How much simpler would it have been had Congressman Weiner came out and said, "Yeah, that's my junk, and that's my shaved chest, and I DID send them to a woman I don't really know who I met on Facebook, and I've talked to my wife about it, I apologized, we're okay as a family and I apologize to my constituents for making a poor choice."

Frankly, the story would probably have gone away within a day.  No story here folks, he admitted it was him, that he sent the photos to a woman who's not his wife and by the way, he's very sorry we found out about it.

The public at large likely would have let it go and marked it up to men-in-power-doing-stupid-things syndrome.  Yes, FOX would run it into the ground for the next six months, but for the most part, the public would forget about it very quickly.

Instead, he lied about the photos, and, once caught in a lie, had to lie more, and then after he admitted the mistake, had to own up to the lies, forever tarnishing his image as a lawmaker and leader.  Certainly there are many out there now asking, "if he's willing to lie about something so small, what else will he lie about?"  And that's a reasonable question.

As a small business owner or non-profit director, you have to remember these three things when you find yourself in a situation, either of your own making or of circumstance. 
1.  Be Honest - Don't lie.  If you made a mistake, own up to it.  If you did something wrong, own up to it.  Don't blame someone else.  Even if the problem isn't of your own making, ultimately if it happened at your organization, you're responsible.  Take the hit and swallow your medicine like an adult.  Trust me, it's better than getting caught in a lie.  That just makes things worse.
2.  Apologize -  Be sincere, and contrite.  Chances are, you're going to be very sorry about whatever happened.  If one of your employees was running drugs out of your restaurant and someone overdosed because of it, YOU make the apology.  It's your business, after all, and you're ultimately responsible.  Apologize for not being more diligent.
3.  Have a plan - In most cases, you'll be hammered for not being prepared or for lack of oversight or for simply having human foibles.  In each case, you can offer up a plan that will ensure that something similar doesn't happen again.  For the most part, that's what your customers and supporters want to see.  They understand making a mistake, they just want to make sure it doesn't happen again.
When working in the online world, you have to be VERY careful. As you have seen, it only takes a single moment, a single sent photo, a random post or Tweet to get yourself into scalding hot water.  You have to remain on top of everything you do online. 
Social media is a powerful platform to market your organization and gain supporters, recognition and even business.  But all of your careful work can be undone in just a handful of keystrokes if you're not careful.  
And if you DO make a mistake, don't try to hide it, or "delete" it or ignore it.  Tackle it head on with honesty and sincerity and you'll find that you can overcome almost any faux-pas.  Just as long as your straightforward with your friends, followers, the public at large and the media. 

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