Haris Ahmed, Chicago Consultant: PR’s Place In Twitter and the Digital Era
Haris Ahmed (Chicago) management consulting firm Pragmatium Consulting Group Inc. has personally mentored more than 100 C-level executives and business leaders across a number of industries.
As public relations shifts from traditional to digital channels, one question businesses have is who should have the responsibility of handling the corporate social media accounts? Should they enlist the help of a PR agency to handle it? Or tap someone from within the organization to craft the business’ strategic messaging? The urgency underlying this question also comes in the wake of the latest Twitter gaffe to hit the White House.
PR Goes Digital
There are several relevant social media platforms used by businesses to reach their customers, but for the purposes of this blog, Twitter will be solely discussed. Many forget that Twitter describes itself as an online news platform. PR practitioners, however, rely on Twitter more than any other platform to follow stories. Since its conception more than a decade ago, Twitter and its millions of users has been witness to some of the greatest PR blunders. Some have comedic value while others are just downright tragic, but all bear valuable lessons for PR professionals, especially in this digital age.
One example that comes to mind which had such dreadful magnitude is Chrysler’s PR blunder in 2011. In 140 characters, the rogue tweet managed to drop an F-bomb and insult a city’s iconic automotive history. The tweet went, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f-ing drive”. At the time, Chrysler had more than 7,500 followers on its Twitter handle and unfortunately, a lot of people already saw it by the time the tweet was taken down. Fortunately for Chrysler, they immediately deleted the tweet and posted an apology, “Our apologies – our account was compromised earlier today. We are taking steps to resolve it.” Short but succinct, Chrysler’s follow up tweet, to its credit, was the right thing to do. The company later explained that the tweet had come from an employee of the social media agency they were working with. The employee was fired and Chrysler no longer renewed their contract.
So what can we learn from this event? First, there will always be risks when handling social media accounts. Whether this had been an external PR agency or a well-funded in-house PR staff, anyone reckless could have made that mistake. The more important thing here is to have PR practitioners who understand your company’s messaging and the audience to target. Given that Chrysler has a reputation for being luxurious, the apology they provided was in line with their brand image. It was objective and straight to the point. Another business in a different industry like retail could have gone about it differently and inject humor, for example, and it would have still prevented a PR nightmare from unfolding.
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