How To Avoid Accidental Tweets & Disasters


Working in social media is great… most of the time. The times when you’re not juggling multiple social accounts and when the persona-filled conversations aren’t making you feel even more bipolar and panicked than normal. Because even though social media gives us a great opportunity to converse and be creative, it gives us an equally compelling opportunity to fall flat on our face in front of an audience just waiting to see it happen. Despite all our best intentions, things often have a way of going very, very awry in social media.

Looking for examples? Well, most recently the @redcross got slizzerd, @ChryslerAutos had expletives for #motorcity, Marc Jacobs’ intern had a Twitter meltdown, and @KennethCole found a new way to get his Spring line some publicity. They were all great case studies of the absolute havoc a single 140-character message can cause to your brand. And if they seem like extreme examples, they weren’t.

One of the most common way many of us find ourselves in trouble in social media is through accidental tweeting. When a tweet we meant for one accounts (usually a small personal account) is oh-so-accidentally sent from a corporate or client account either by freak accident, sloppy behavior or a combination of the two. But it doesn’t have to happen to you. You can be smarter.

Below you’ll find some tips to help you reduce the odds that you’ll suffer a horrible (and public) social media fail at the hands of accidental tweeting. It just may save your life one day. Or, at least, your job.

How can you protect yourself (and your clients)?

Befriend different browsers for different needs: Since Outspoken Media offers social media consulting, it’s not unusual for me or any of our employees to have our hands in multiple accounts in any given day. To ensure that we don’t expose our clients to any accidental tweets or social media fails, employees are encouraged to use different browsers for different needs. For example, it means I personally use different browsers for client social media use, personal use and company use. Is it a pain in the butt to switch browsers and whip out Internet Explorer every now and then? Sure. But you know what would be more annoying? Having to explain to a client why I’m on their Twitter account talking about my parking spot wars.

…also use different mobile apps: Need to tweet for your company from your phone while on the go? Do yourself a favor and download a separate Twitter app to help you do it. Do not try and switch between accounts via one platform as it’s far too easy to hit the wrong button or drunkenly navigate yourself to the wrong area. If possible, I’d also recommend HIDING the company account from your phone’s main screen so that you need to search with a purpose to access it. Again, it may seem like an annoyance, better safe than sorry when it comes to exposing your clients or your own brand to harm.

Don’t stay logged into client/company social media accounts: If you’re working in a client’s Twitter or Facebook account, be in that account. When you’re done or you’re going to move on to a different project, LOG OUT OF THE ACCOUNT. Do not allow yourself to save log-in information or to remain logged in while you go do something else. Why not? Because at some point you’re going to get distracted. You’re going to head to Perez Hilton to take a mental break and see a cute story about some dimpled celebrity child. And then later you’re going to have to explain to your boss or your client why it is you liked a story about Suri Cruise from their Facebook account or why you left a comment on that Kim Kardashian article as them. That’s not a conversation you want to have and you also don’t want to expose your client to people who may be monitoring their social media activity.

Use smarter tools: Luckily, many of the social media tool providers are now accounting for our how fallible we are as humans. For example, just this week Hootsuite added a new feature designed to protect brand messaging for enterprises called Secure Profiles. The idea here is that now owners can designate certain profiles (think: your work accounts) as “secure” so that you’ll have to confirm your tweet before it’s published, thereby making social media so idiot proof most of us can actually do it. The tool was actually created in response to the recent social media mess-ups, which Hootsuite says “caused marketplace confusion and affected brand sentiment – and they were all preventable”.

The above should do a fairly good job of helping keep you (and your brand) safe in social media waters. However, if social media has reminded us anything, it’s that we are human. So, what should you do when you ignore the separate browser rule and tweet something awful on your company account?

  • Act Quickly: If you don’t know how to delete a tweet from your phone, learn. Right now, before you need it.
  • Admit the error: We all saw what you did. Even if the tweet where you made that crude joke about your boyfriend’s mother on your company account was only live for 5 seconds – we saw you. Don’t just delete the tweet and pretend it didn’t happen.
  • Use humor, if appropriate: If your brand can pull off quirky humor, now would be a good time to use it. The Red Cross, for example, leveraged this wonderfully after its own mess up. If your brand isn’t known for having a sense of humor or you totally went off the deep end Kenneth Cole-style, do not attempt to be pithy now. Just say you’re sorry.
  • Don’t let it happen again: People will forgive your stupidity once. After that, you better have a process in place for how you’ll never let it happen again.
  • Read Jay Baer’s post on The 3 Types of Self-Destructive Corporate Tweets for further advice.

Mistakes in social media are going to happen. What’s important is that we do everything in our power that we can to act smartly and to take blame, when the situation arises.

Your Comments

  • Jay Baer

    Thanks so much for this excellent post Lisa. I love the tactical break-down. Well done!

  • Dawn Wentzell

    This is why I hate hate hate social media apps that allow you to post to multiple accounts. It’s not more efficient, it’s really just asking for trouble. Almost ALL of the oops’es in social media happen because someone thought they were posting to a different account.

    So STOP trying to make things easier for yourself, and FORCE yourself to actively think about what you’re doing.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, definitely, Dawn. The “easier” we make the process, the more barriers we’re removing for ourselves to royally screw it up. When you have to actually THINK about what you’re doing and stay alert, you’re far more likely to realize you’re about to publish that tweet on the wrong account or comment on the wrong client’s Facebook account. :)

  • Rhea Drysdale

    I’ve definitely been an offender of being in the wrong account or trusting a tool to not do something it logically shouldn’t do. Employees and clients have done the same. We’re human with busy days ahead of us, relying on technology, that to Dawn’s point should make things easier, often complicates matters.

    The Air Force has been criticized in the past for creating a “One-Mistake” atmosphere. I love this commentary on the subject:

    But another even more important concern is that the young officer who is afraid of making a mistake will be reluctant to move out, to use initiative, to be innovative, to exercise imagination, to express ideas, all of which are vital to a truly professional Air Force. The fear of making a mistake presents an atmosphere that is unhealthy and even has the potential for being disastrous to the readiness of the Air Force.

    We’ve had to tighten our policies in-house as Lisa outlined above to help reduce the number of mistakes we make. We’ve done security audits to find issues we’d otherwise miss. But, mistakes will happen. How do we reduce the occurrences and handle them when the inevitable occurs? Great advice and why I now have three browsers running at all times with very different purposes rather than relying on a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. It may not be as efficient to log out of every task and account, but it’s vital when protecting the privacy of a client and the good name of a brand. Great topic!

    • Lisa Barone

      Re: the scared officer comment – There’s a HUGE difference between making a mistake because of inexperience/trying something and simply doing something stupid. :)

      Amber Naslund wrote a post not too long about how we shouldn’t hop on brands the moment they mess up in social media because we’re supposed to be encouraging them to get involved. I will totally buy that. But I do think that’s different than someone who makes a mistake out of laziness (didn’t check to make sure he was in the right account) and someone who tries something new and happens to flop. I have way more sympathy and compassion for the latter.

      It’s really about making sure you’re alert when you’re working and that you know what you’re doing, in what account, at all times. That may mean throwing some hurdles in your way to make things harder but, I’d rather that than a very awkward conversation with a client later.

      • Rhea Drysdale

        “Simply doing something stupid” is rarely so black and white. Judgment and moral decisions are something deeper than slipping up, but with simple mistakes due to a lack of foresight, technology problems or inexperience, “you can be smarter.” Implementing the methods you outlined makes us smarter, but in our case, much like the case of others, we got here by making a “stupid” mistake and learning from it. Mistakes pushed us to create a process that reduces future errors and that, in my mind, makes us innovators in our field. We saw a problem and corrected for it.

        The Air Force comment was relating fear of mistakes back to the fear of innovation, but it’s rooted in not chastising the more simple mistake. That’s the whole point of the post in my mind. Humans will make mistakes, but we can’t live in fear of them (which of course we will, because it’s human to worry, too).

  • P.S. Jones

    I live in fear of this everyday, actually. As someone who does a lot of quick tasks, I found that just slowing down and double checking everything really helps.

    • Lisa Barone

      Definitely. Before you send that tweet, publish that update, let go of that email…stop, confirm the account, and then go. If more people did that we’d have a lot fewer “oopsies” out there.

  • Dan Cristo

    Hey Lisa,
    Great topic.

    As more and more brands get into this social media thing I’m sure we’re all in store for many more tweet disasters. There’s just so much that can go wrong: from poor judgement with jokes to angry customer service reps venting at customers (Remember that Verizon rep when the iPhone came out – whew).

    It wouldn’t surprise me if brand reputation specialists were called in when companies screw up. Could be a great consulting gig.. hmm.


  • john Falchetto

    Lisa, you just stopped a whole bunch of people from making the news with their Twitter ‘oopsies’. Now what we will blog about? ;)

    Now your comment above opened a whole new dimension, should we be more forgiving to people who make a mistake out of trying as opposed to those who can’t use a browser properly?
    This is a fine line, a mistake is a mistake but I believe the lesson is more important than the mistake itself. Thanks for showing us how to avoid these mistakes in the first place.

  • Maciej (ma-chi)

    This is great, I think for repeat offenders there should be a breathalyzer at the computer just so people don’t drink & tweet.

  • bluephoenixnyc

    I feel like a Chrysler-like crisis is easy to avoid: Just separate your personal time from your work time. If your job is to build the Chrysler brand and not your own, you probably shouldn’t be updating your Twitter status on the clock anyway. The opposite also applies about leaving the branded account alone when you’ve gone home. That kind of discipline would go a long way towards rectifying some of these clumsy tweeting accidents.

    Then again, some companies might have around-the-clock brand development built into their strategy. That probably renews something that anyone in social media should live by: Think before you tweet.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    Using different browsers is a good way to avoid problems, I do it as well especially when I have to work with my Follows list on the standard Twitter interface, as it’s kinda boring to log on and off different accounts.
    I managed to screw things up a while ago when I posted a DM as a normal Twitter once, it wasn’t anything embarrassing but personal enough to wish it never happened. I managed to delete it within 20 seconds, which kinda surprised me as I never did that before and I kept my cool even if the situation was particularly annoying. I admit it was a problem with the specific client’s interface (the Hootsuite app) which fooled me into thinking the Send button was instead a Reply to DM one… well hey, you can’t be perfect all the times right?

  • Ashley Forrester

    Now it is a proven fact that Twitter is one of the most effective ways of staying updated with your customers and followers.
    That means if used properly, Twitter can be used as an effective social media marketing tool to promote your brands and products. However, if not used properly Twitter can also ruin the reputation of your business. Many people out there are implementing some wrong marketing ideas on Twitter and expecting go get great results.

  • Yuhong Bao

    How about having a separate team monitor employee tweets and RT company-relevant stuff to the company account?