It was a disappointing night in Indianapolis tonight (I’m writing this at 12:00 on a Sunday night/Monday morning). Our beloved Indianapolis Colts lost the Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints, 31 – 17.
I followed the game with many of my Twitter friends, and we had a good time chatting with each other, and some of our Twitter buddies down in New Orleans. When the game was over, we congratulated the Saints fans, and wished them well. Everyone but one person. They tweeted what was one of the most egregious tweets I had seen in, maybe, ever.
Fine New Orleans. Go back to your stupid flooded shit hole of a city with the trophy.
Our collective jaws dropped. People were offended, and the whole thing created quite a firestorm here in Indianapolis among several PR and social media pros. It even got some serious attention in New Orleans.
This hateful tweet was made by a supposed PR professional — we’ll call them X — who didn’t seem to understand that when you’re in PR, you’re on all the time. If you make public statements, you and your organization will be judged by those statements. And when you make a joke about a city that lost over 1800 people to the country’s most devastating hurricane in a century, that reflects poorly on you, on your company, and even on your city.
We’re sorry, New Orleans
First of all, let me apologize on behalf of the entire city. This one person does not speak for the rest of us. For the most part, we were gracious in our loss, and I saw a lot of tweets congratulating the city of New Orleans for an awesome win. You fans have shown real class and pride over the years. You love your team as much as we love ours. And this was a great game. I’m very sorry one person said something that awful. We don’t think like that, act like that, or talk like that in Indiana. This person’s tweet is not indicative of the entire state’s way of thinking.
A Quick Aside
I have since learned, after I wrote the first draft, that X received death threats for their offending tweet. Totally uncool, people. While what this person did was hateful, death threats will land you in all kinds of trouble with the law. Do not make death threats, or violent threats of any kind. Be better than X, rise above it. Let’s keep our heads.
Back to the Story
So someone publicly tweeted X’s boss “Hey, congratulations on the AWESOME hire.” A follow-up tweet called on X’s boss to fire them. X deleted their tweet, and protected their account (because of the death threats), but the damage had been done. Screen shots were already circulating, and many people were discussing it online.
While I’m not calling for anyone’s resignation, I do think the entire incident was handled poorly this evening. As a PR practitioner, I would hope X would recognize that:
- there is no compartmentalizing of personal life and private life when you’re on Twitter and social media.
- Google lasts forever. Just because you delete something doesn’t mean it’s gone. The screen shots are out there forever.
- Anyone with even a basic understanding of crisis communication should understand that you need to react to the situation with remorse and speed, not hiding evidence or closing down. One would hope that a PR professional would understand this.
This is the kind of PR that no public figure — corporate, government, or otherwise — would ever want. And yet, it’s the kind that someone, who truly should have known better, got.
Think beyond the present moment
Whenever I give social media talks, especially to college students, I always say the same thing: If you don’t want skeletons in your closet, don’t stick bodies in there in the first place.
If you don’t want potential employers to find stupid photos of you on Facebook, 1) don’t do stupid stuff, 2) don’t take photographic evidence of your stupidity and 3) don’t associate with people who post photos of your stupidity on Facebook.
The same is true with Twitter. Don’t tweet things that are hurtful, painful, and just plain wrong. Don’t wave it off as sarcasm. And always, always apologize when you screw up. Don’t hide, don’t cower, don’t turn on your protective force field. Admit your mistake like an adult, and then quit acting like a child in the first place.
(X did apologize for their tweet in their blog post.)
This incident is just one more reason why businesses are loathe to let their people get on social media on behalf of the company. They don’t want someone tweeting, Facebooking, or generally communicating with the world when they shouldn’t be.
Actions like this hurt the social media community as a whole, and they makes our job harder when we try to convince C-level executives to trust their employees to do the right thing. If the people who should know better can’t do the right thing, why would the average employee?
Finally, I hope the person in question will apologize to the people of New Orleans, and follow it up with a donation to their rebuilding efforts. I also hope X’s employer will use this as an educational moment. Use it to learn and grow from.
And quit using Twitter after 5:00 if you can’t be trusted.