This past weekend’s Internet frenzy around an ignorant tweet by an alleged PR professional is a wake up call to pay more attention to our social media manners.
In case you missed the flap, Justine Sacco was on a layover in London en route to South Africa when she posted an offensive tweet. While she was on her connecting flight, Justine’s tweet was spotted by someone at BuzzFeed. Within a few hours, reaction to the tweet began trending and Justine’s followers jumped from just over 200 to more than 8,000. She was greeted upon arrival by Cape Town Twitterer @Zac_R who was able to confirm the rapid-growing hashtag question: #HasJustineLandedYet. Justine’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were quickly deleted, but no explanation or apology came until Sunday evening. The damage to her reputation and career had already occurred. A day before her delayed public apology in a statement to ABC News, Justine was fired from her job as senior director of communications at IAC, the giant online media holding company that owns About.com, Match.com, Dictionary.com, ASK, Vimeo, Daily Beast and others.
Although some have speculated that Justine’s tweet and others over the past several months were intended to be provocative in order to build her social media persona, that does not justify tasteless and offensive tweets. Others suggest she should have the Drunk Text Savior app installed on her mobile phone. Tragically, Justine generated additional negative perceptions of public relations professionals. This sad moment for PR will make an important social media case study in many crisis management classes in 2014.
A few social media etiquette lessons come from this latest flap. First, it bears repeating that everyone of us needs to think before we engage in social media. If in doubt, don’t push send. Second, if we screw up, respond in real-time, not two days after the mistake. And do so in the medium in which the mistake was made. Third, engage in social media when you’re able to clearly focus on what you plan to say. No distractions, no alcohol, no drugs. Finally, don’t say stupid, ignorant things that you think will amuse your friends. #EveryoneIsWatching