I was at my college reunion when it happened. My friends and I were at an outdoor luncheon looking through old yearbooks, laughing and pointing at photos of ourselves. I snapped some pictures of the yearbook pages with my phone to share with friends who couldn’t be there. One particularly funny photo was of my friend D., who was wearing a necklace bearing the name of her old boyfriend. Ha! I snapped a photo and posted it to Facebook for my classmates to see. (For the record, she was sitting right next to me and was fine with the post.) “Hey ‘95-ers!” I captioned. “Check out D.’s necklace!”
Only it didn’t post to my personal page. I accidentally posted that photo to the company Facebook Page.
If you’ve ever used the Facebook iPhone app as a Page admin, you understand it isn’t difficult to make this error. The app doesn’t clearly indicate from which (or to which) account you are posting. It also doesn’t allow you to delete a post. But I digress…
So I’m in the middle of an outdoor luncheon in a tent on a college campus, and I’ve just posted a silly personal photo to the company Facebook Page that I can’t erase. What to do?? My mistake wasn’t exactly of the #gettingslizzerd variety but embarrassing nonetheless.
I knew that it was not just about the mistake, but how I handled it. How a community manager deals with errors can make the difference between it being a blip on the radar versus a major embarrassment.
Here’s what I did.
I ducked out of the luncheon (literally ducked, under the side of the tent) and ran in search of the nearest computer lab. While running I used my phone to post a comment to my photo acknowledging the error. I couldn’t erase the post from my phone, and I knew it would take some time to get to a computer– the college campus had been renovated since I was a student 15 years ago and I wasn’t sure where the computer lab was. Rather than having the photo pop up on our fan’s walls without explanation, I decided to come clean. “Oh no!” I posted. “I’m at my college reunion and I just posted this by mistake!”
I ran into the campus security office. Although a bit taken aback by my urgent need to find a computer lab, the staff was kind enough to steer me in the right direction. I located the lab, logged onto our page, and erased the photo.
Then I cursed Facebook (again) and returned to the luncheon for a glass of wine.
The result? Not a peep from the fans. Overall, it ended up being a non-event.
So, what did I learn from my mistake? A few things.
1. It’s always a good idea to respond quickly and sincerely. Even humorously, if you can manage it. If you’ve read about the Red Cross story, you know that response is where they really shined. Their error became a case study for handling social media faux pas instead of a blight on the brand’s reputation. Kenneth Cole, on the other hand, responded to his ridiculously offensive tweet with another that was almost defensive in tone, making an already bad situation even worse.
2. This is when the community relationships you’ve built pay off. Despite my panic, deep down I knew that our fans would forgive a bit of human error. After all, our fans know there is a real person behind the page. And although I post on behalf of the company, I occasionally post in the first person (or rarely, from my personal account). Our fans know me. And so when I do mess up, I can say things like, “Sorry guys, I made a mistake.” And their reaction is “No big deal,” rather than “Ooh, Big Untouchable Brand just screwed up!”
3. It’s okay to erase your mistake. As a community manager I feel very strongly about maintaining transparency. I don’t believe in erasing posts from the community unless they explicitly violate the rules of engagement. But sometimes you need to press delete. Obviously leaving the photo on our Facebook page would just cause more confusion and embarrassment over time. Even worse is failing to delete something that has offended your fans, because leaving it in cyberspace implies that you stand behind it. Which brings us back to Kenneth Cole, who left his offensive tweet and non-apology up for several hours before finally removing it and issuing a real apology. Too little, too late.
4. Finally, the no-brainer. If you’re a Facebook Page admin, stop and think before posting photos from your phone. I wish I could say I trashed the Facebook iPhone app after this whole debacle, but I didn’t. The truth is, I use it pretty frequently. But I’m going to be a heck of a lot more careful with it in the future.
What is your biggest social media faux pas?