Chill: Avoiding a Twitter Meltdown

While Twitter’s popularity has skyrocketed since 2006, it’s surprising that some folks (ahem, adults and celebrities) still don’t know how to use it nor do they exercise proper Twitter etiquette.

The prime example comes from Keith Olbermann, an ESPN analyst who fought with Pennsylvania State University students via Twitter in February. It is no secret that Olbermann isn’t fond of Penn State as he’s bashed them numerous times on television, but this may have taken the fight too far.

It all started with this tweet from a Penn State student, linked to an article highlighting Penn State students raising more than $13 million for pediatric cancer research. Olbermann responded:

After many others responded to Olbermann, the tweets continued:

Olbermann responded to at least a half-dozen tweets about the matter, all with the same angry tone. ESPN released a statement soon after, suspending Olbermann from appearing on television:

We are aware of the exchange Keith Olbermann had on Twitter last night regarding Penn State. It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the views of ESPN. We have discussed it with Keith, who recognizes he was wrong. ESPN and Keith have agreed that he will not host his show for the remainder of this week and will return on Monday. The annual tradition of THON and the efforts of the students of Penn State to fight pediatric cancer should be applauded.

Olbermann then tweeted an apology (obviously very sincerely):

So the question remains, why do some users think it’s acceptable to act so provocatively on social media? Don’t they realize how easily they can be scrutinized when their statements are made so publicly, so quickly?

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Many other celebrities have had Twitter beefs, even with each other. This article outlines the Taylor Swift/Nicki Minaj spat that occurred a few weeks ago. Celebrities Amber Rose and Khloe Kardashian also got into it earlier in the year.

Needless to say, Twitter outbursts are a PR practitioner’s worst nightmare. How do you clean up a mess on social media when everything is archived and captured before there’s a chance to hit “delete”?

Tom Gable of Gable PR offers some good tips on how to avoid situations like these.

In addition to these, our team has come up with some of our own:

  • Make sure to fully research a subject or fully consider a topic before discussing it. It may be something with which you don’t want to associate your client or your brand.
  • Tell your client to run their tweets by you before posting, especially if it’s something controversial. Most times, you, as the professional, will know what’s best for your client.
  • If a crisis does occur, don’t fan the flame. Apologize, sincerely, as soon as possible and follow up with positive press.
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6 Responses to Chill: Avoiding a Twitter Meltdown

  1. Tyler Otremba says:

    I think Twitter is a place for people to release their thoughts, whatever they may be, without feeling as if anyone is going to respond or fight back. Unfortunately, Twitter thoughts can turn into brutal consequences like you mentioned above. Olbermann was lucky and was only suspended from his job for his Twitter rants, many other people have lost theirs. This situation reminds me of the PR executive a year or so ago who was fired from her job for tweeting things that were perceived as racist before traveling to Africa. Justine Sacco tweeted, “Going to Africa, hope I don’t get AIDS.” Even professional PR people say things on Twitter that they don’t mean, but these situations are reminders that no matter how protected the account is, or if it is your personal account, what you say on the Internet is permanent and public and it can come back to bite you, so everyone should do themselves a favor and chill and avoid Twitter meltddowns.

  2. Alexandria Coleman says:

    I cannot believe that he carried on with his rude responses for so long without realizing his mistake. A bad tweet or two, I can understand. People blurt out things they don’t mean just as easily on Twitter as they do in face-to-face conversations. However, this was more than just a tweet or two. If he had apologized after the initial “pitiful” tweet, we probably wouldn’t have heard about this incident.

    I agree that you have to be able to catch these types of things before they happen. There definitely has to be a certain level of preparedness when it comes to social media, but I am not sure that having your client run every single tweet by you beforehand is the answer. Ideally, that would be nice. However, in reality, I think it would be a significant burden.

    For example, in my current position at Maricopa Corporate College, I handle most of the social media posts. My direct supervisor, the Director of Marketing and PR, simply does not have the time to review every tweet that I create on behalf of our organization. Frankly, even if she did, I would argue that her time would be better spent elsewhere. It is far more efficient to teach clients (or in my case, employees) how to tweet properly, rather than looking over their shoulder every step of the way. You may not be able to prevent every Twitter disaster this way, but I’d say you could prevent most of them.

  3. Erin Mondt says:

    I was honestly shocked that Keith Olbermann took his Twitter rant so far. As a ESPN employee, Olbermann should have known that his actions were childish and uncalled for. I could see him getting frustrated and sending out one or two tweets, but sending out over 5 tweets was taking it too far. He should have realized that responding to that many students was unnecessary, and that he wasn’t thinking straight. Someone should have taken his phone away.
    I am thankful that the Cronkite faculty has drilled into our heads the importance of acting professional on all social media platforms. As a college student, we are constantly told to be cautious of what we are posting, and as a result, I don’t even think twice about lashing out to someone on Twitter. I think it is easier for the older generations to do so, because they didn’t grow up with the precaution.
    These older employees let their emotions get the most of them, and simply forget that they are posting for the entire world to see. You can always delete your tweets immediately, but no matter what someone still saw that specific tweet. I think that was the right choice for Olbermann to post an apology on Twitter, and he did the right thing. But he is lucky he didn’t lose his job, and must be extremely careful about what he tweets because now he will always be seen in a different light.

  4. Cassandra Weller says:

    I think this is a very interesting blog post because celebrities misusing social media is a hot topic right now. I think that with anyone, celebrity or not, there is this thinking that social media is a barrier and that the things being sent out don’t have repercussions for them. What people don’t understand is that typing and sending out things on social media is exactly as if your own mouth said those things. I feel that celebrities especially should double think the items being sent out on social media. They don’t have to share everything, although most feel the need to. I definitely agree with the three bullet points the team came up with. These could possible help prevent future controversies on social media.

  5. Juliet Moo says:

    Journalism and communication students are constantly reminded to be mindful of what we post on social media, which makes it hard to imagine what an experienced host/commentator like Olbermann was thinking about all those times before clicking ‘Tweet’. Olbermann should know better not to post anything recklessly on the Internet as what goes on the Internet stays there forever. What makes it more absurd is that he got worked up over a successful fund raising for pediatric cancer. Replying with ‘… Pitiful’ is simply tasteless and immature.

    Although it went on for a little too long, at least he realized that he was making a big mistake and apologized. I personally believe in the power of a sincere apology. However, this mistake he made so publicly will forever be remembered. Therefore, this is just another example of what not to do (or post) on the Internet.

  6. Asia Poole says:

    This is such an important topic because Twitter has been the demise of so many relationships (professional or otherwise) as well as reputations. I would recommend handling each client differently, if you have a slew of clients that use Twitter, rather than having a set guideline. For instance, if I have a recording artist, a politician and an MTV talkshow host as my clients, I would have different levels of requirements for them. The recording artist would have the most leeway with Twitter since she or he is a social representative much like the individuals all around the Twitterverse. The politician would have the most restrictions because what she or he says reflects the political platform they stand on.

    I definitely feel like Twitter usage is case by case.

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