social media mistakes create preventable crises

We’ve all heard the Twitter horror stories about posting a message you thought was going to your personal account but ended up posted on the corporate account you manage instead. Oopsies. Accounts for a senator & the American Red Cross are infamous for these mistaken tweets. And it seems those tweets posted in haste are never benign messages like “wow what a great a day” — instead they tend to be messages that blow off steam in one way or another. The social scientist in me wonders if there is a correlation between this accidental tweeting and the tweeter’s level of annoyance with the world at that particular moment.

Well it happened again, and this time it was the U.S. Navy’s official account that published the mistakenly tweeted comment.

And what a splash it made — being covered in the Navy Times blog & Politico (the main source of buzz in the Beltway), among other industry blogs.

@USNavy image tweeted in response to mistakenly posted tweet
@USNavy image tweeted in response to mistakenly posted tweet

The tweet was quickly deleted, & followed up with an apology. Later, the Navy tweeted this amusing pic (complete with @ replies mentions to the most prominent online outlets who were already covering the story) showing someone presumably from the social media team writing “I will not tweet on my personal account at work” over, and over & over. (Side note, we have a word for this punishment in the Navy — EMT, which stands for “extra military instruction.”)

In a situation like this is is absolutely necessary to admit your mistake, which they quickly did. And in a mild social media crisis like this, humor goes a long way at maintaining a relationship with your stakeholders, which they did.

But the Navy social media team is more than just an official voice for the service, it also serves as a social media training point of contact for public affairs officers across the fleet. To their credit, the Navy team followed up with a post on their tumblr blog (intended for internal audiences) explaining the situation & offering social media management tips to other public affairs personnel.Their tips were simple & to the point:

“Our bad” is your good—Here are some key takeaways we wanted to share:

  • Be careful of which accounts you are logged into when using a third-party application
  • Don’t use your personal account at work—it’s too easy to get them mixed up
  • When you make a mistake, know that it will be public, acknowledge it and be honest

The crisis response was well-handled, but I can’t help but wonder how we’re still having these problems — especially on such big brands. Not only should a social media specialist of all people be extremely cognizant of which account he or she is about to post to, shouldn’t the social media team more than anyone know to NOT post when you’re angry or distracted?

The bottom line is even if your response is excellent, controlling the situation to prevent the crisis in the first place is the better tack to take.

Quick Disclosure in Case You Forgot: While I used to support the Navy social media team, I haven’t had my hands in their work since early 2011. I am still in the U.S. Navy Reserve and always interested in what is happening with the services & their social media.

Still Remembering Lynda Lee Kaid

Tomorrow, April 13, is the one year anniversary of the gone-too-soon Dr. Lynda Lee Kaid. Dr. Kaid (yes, I still call her Dr. Kaid even though I’m a tenured professor!) was my mentor, adviser, support system, cheerleader & friend during my doctoral studies.

Dr. Lynda Lee Kaid toasts to Dr. Kaye Sweetser at her doctoral defense (May 2004)
Dr. Lynda Lee Kaid toasts to Dr. Kaye Sweetser at her doctoral defense (May 2004)

It has been very difficult for me to mourn her, because the day that I found out she had passed I was getting on a plane to Afghanistan for my military recall. As you can imagine, the real world is suspended when you’re at war. Sadly, I missed the opportunity to celebrate her life and contributions to this world at the fantastic memorial service (video here) at the University of Florida.

Dr. Kaid’s research, approach to learning and presence is always with me. She created a true research family of her graduated students that made up a rich international network. Some of my favorite people and the brightest minds in political communication scholarship were taught the ropes by her and it shows.

Dr. Andrew Paul Williams, Dr. Lynda Lee Kaid, Dr. Kristen Landreville & Dr. Kaye Sweetser catch up at ICA 2005.
Dr. Andrew Paul Williams, Dr. Lynda Lee Kaid, Dr. Kristen Landreville & Dr. Kaye Sweetser catch up at ICA 2005.

Beyond those public & scholarly contributions, I have countless memories of election returns parties at her house, movie screenings, late night pizza & data sessions, jury rigging cable in the journalism college for a debate experiment & fancy dinners at conferences.

Dr. Kaid was simply one-of-a-kind.

She believed that you learn by doing. Jump into a research team & just start — there is enough for everyone to have a meaningful contribution.

She believed in sharing knowledge. No need to keep your projects secret, rather invite in more scholars for a richer collaboration because there is always data enough for everyone.

She believed in working hard. Because of her I can manage multiple (upwards of half a dozen) projects at one time. Not only that, I remember that she edited my last draft of my dissertation only one day out of surgery. Her edits were thoughtful, complete and supportive while pushing me to make the research better.

She believed in being productive. People ask me how I publish so much scholarship annually & my answer is always “doesn’t everybody?” — I followed Dr. Kaid’s impressive lead as closely as I could keep up.

Most importantly, she really believed … as in she believed in me. One of my favorite stories about Dr. Kaid is one I didn’t come to really know until after I’d graduated with my PhD. I’ll start at the beginning.

When I started my doctoral program at UF, it is no surprise to the people who know me that I had a very aggressive plan for accomplishing my goal. Not only did I want to finish in about 2 years (not impossible since I was just rolling out of a master’s program at the same school), but I also wanted to research a communication tool that was new and mostly made fun of at the time (blogs). I remember asking Dr. Kaid to be my dissertation chair, much like one asks a date to the prom. Though I had worked on her research team at that point for several months, I was not officially her student nor was my area officially political communication. (I had just been on the team for fun.) I talked to my friends about it, created a strategy for the discussion and even role-played. I was nervous for nothing because she signed on immediately. Not only did she agree to formally be my mentor, she agreed to allow me to develop my first-choice dissertation topic: celebrity blogs. At the time this was not en vogue, nor did it seem like a scholarly topic at all. I later learned that her own adviser, another scholarly great (Dr. Keith Sanders), had extended her the same support in that when she asked to study political advertising for her dissertation most at the time said that topic was not going anywhere. She took a chance on me, just like Dr. Sanders took a chance on her.

There is so much to say, so many things to thank her for and so many accomplishments that me and my 40 Kaid-advised research “brothers and sisters” have all thanks to her mentorship.

As I mourn her loss a full year later, I’ll spend tomorrow in the way she most would want: in a political communication research team meeting on campus.

Rest in peace to one of the greatest scholars and all-around-most supportive and wonderful people of all time.

what is missing in social media research

Now that I am back from my military duty in Afghanistan & just really staring to settle in, I have had a chance to catch up a bit on social media research. As I read articles — both popular press metrics pieces and scholarly theoretical pieces — I’m struck not by what researchers are accomplishing but rather what is missing.

I can sum it up in one word: purpose.

In scholarly research I see a lot of descriptive (mine included, no one is safe here!) research that just describes what is happening. Often from the organizational perspective. The biggest offenders are content analyses of social sites, which just describe what organizations are doing online with no connection to their stakeholders or inquiry into the effect the social tactics have.

In practitioner-targeted metric articles, there appears to be a focus on cool new ways to count things but a lack of connection of those metrics to the organizations goals and objectives. There are lists with meaningless measures like number of fans/followers or cool ways to measure mentions, with little discussion about what type of question that data would answer for an organization or how it could inform or change a PR campaign.

Now of course I’m making sweeping generalizations here, but that is what blogging is about. Yes, I know that there are guys like Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis, Olivier Blanchard and others who do actively focus all metrics as extentions of business goals. But they are not the norm.

In academia we are also falling short of asking those really interesting questions that not only explain what organizations are doing in their social spaces but what impact social presence has. This involves external variables and well, sometimes actually asking people, which of course takes more time and more money and who in the ivory tower has that these days?

As I move forward in my own research, I’m pledging to be a better scholar & not take the easy road. I’m in the great position, just coming out of hiatus if you will, of being able to re-focus my research program. I plan to do more surveys and experiments coupled with content analysis.

Now more than ever we see everything is connected and I’ll make a conscious effort to represent those connections in my research.