Work – Taming the Twitter tyrant

Taming the Twitter tyrant

It’s 3:31 a.m. and you just can’t sleep. There’s a weird light — wait — your phone screen is lit up — but why? You give it a glance and see hundreds of Twitter notifications. Further investigation reveals someone in your company has been tweeting up a storm, and it’s bad.  Really bad. You roll over, hoping it’s a dream. But it’s not.

The drama surrounding the late-night twitter escapades during the presidential campaign reminds me just how quickly a firestorm can build on social media.

In our current “gotcha” social media landscape, one insensitive remark, unpopular opinion or even an ill-timed post can spur the wrath of those opposed and generate hateful comments. Someone unknown can become notorious overnight.

So how do you prepare for the worst?  Do you avoid social media altogether?

In 2016, many prominent corporate heads are still not social media aficionados. But in just a few years, we will be facing a wave of young executives who have always been able to communicate instantly via social channels.

The good news? The next influx of businesspeople will be fluent in social media and its specific nuances. The bad? We are all human and flawed. Some business leaders will be geniuses in their fields; some will be known for public speaking; some will be mild mannered; and some will be outspoken and possibly hot tempered.

The one thing they will all have in common? They have likely never known what it’s like to be required to take the time to sit down and write a letter, on actual paper, when it’s time to respond to a critical comment or outspoken detractor.  They’ve not been forced to contemplate the ramifications of their response for more than a few minutes — because they haven’t had to. At executive level positions, most should
have the needed wisdom, maturity and foresight to communicate appropriately on social media — but some may not.

Businesses need to shore up their social media skills now, and here are four tips to tame the Twitter tyrant and tackle other social media snafus.

Put policies in place
If you don’t already have a detailed social media policy in place, your company should create one. This outlines who is authorized to speak on behalf of the firm, how your company should be referenced, who can respond to complaints, and what is considered acceptable communications and what it not. Having a clearly defined set of guidelines helps navigate any discussions if things go awry.

Develop a crisis communication plan
Imagine a couple of worse-case scenarios and develop a written plan of action to counter the fallout. Think about who becomes the spokesperson if the company or one of its executives becomes embattled in a social media crisis; how will you respond — or if you even should? Consider all the options that could befall your very worst day and be prepared.

Start at the top
CEOs and other executives should be trained on how to interact, respond and communicate on social media as well.  Having a voice that is representative of an entire company is a big responsibility that requires composure, finesse and wisdom. An executive prone to the occasional venomous office email may very well behave similarly on social media. Consult a communications professional for training and coaching if need be.

Stay on message
If there is one lesson from the recent national election, it is to have a list of talking points and adhere to them. While not as formal as scripted posts, a list of pertinent points helps steer the conversations and clarify the company’s stance on relevant topics.

Social media is simply another tool in an executive communicator’s toolbox that we must continue to learn to navigate as we did with the introduction of other mediums. Social media’s accessibility adds an additional layer of vulnerability to any company, so being prepared provides the biggest advantage.  Plan for the worst, yet hope for the best, and you’ll at least sleep a little better at night.

This was originally written for my agency's blog, but was also published in Virginia Business.