A couple of weeks ago, I was in a heated debate about some political issue with a friend whose family is struggling to cope with some unexpected and devastating losses, the kind that seem to come in threes and leave you wondering why on earth you should get out of bed and face another day.
She’s stronger than that, keeping it together and keeping up her end of the debates that often crop up when lifelong friends hold disparate political views and don’t hold a grudge. But this day, just as she said something that drove the perfect retort from the depths of my brain to the tip of my tongue, I stopped. I took a breath. And I changed course. Because the thing that I was going to say was going to hit too close to home, and before my mouth could hit the “send” button I pulled back.
It’s a lesson that I’ve spent years learning, and it’s a lesson businesses are learning, sometimes the hard way, as they navigate the new waters of social media.
The scene came back to me this morning as I read Eater‘s account of insensitive tweets sent by Conde Nast recipe site Epicurious a day after Monday’s bombings in Boston that left three dead and many others maimed.
As it has done in the wake of other recent disasters such as Hurricane Sandy last year, Twitter turned into a conduit for vital information and a way for people to connect in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. And so many have learned the proper etiquette for tweeting messages of support and condolence, but it seems there’s always one that hasn’t yet, despite examples set by those that burned themselves and their brands after past disasters. Like Epicurious, Gap was forced to apologize after an insensitive tweet during Sandy, as Mashable and others reported, and Canadian retail brand President’s Choice found itself in a similar situation when it compared the storm to a Halloween cocktail, according to The Huffington Post.
The blog Mr. MediaTraining not only wondered what Epicurious was thinking when it posted the condolence/recipe combo messages, it also offered advice for removing the tarnish from the site’s reputation, including providing all staffers with social media training.
But how much better it would have been if the person behind the tweet just stopped, took a breath and changed course. Nobody would ever mistake me for a Twitter expert, but I’ve been a writer for a long time and there’s one key advantage to the written word versus the spoken one — the ability to edit. Just because social media seems to speed up the conversation, doesn’t mean there’s not always time to stop and think twice before you hit “send.”
To the people, families and friends of those affected by Monday’s tragedy in Boston, my heart goes out to you. Full stop.