You wouldn’t put kids in charge of your PR, so why do it with social media?

I saw this question in a Twitter chat the other day.

Seriously?

Would you put your youngest employees in charge of your PR, or your corporate communications, or your marketing? Of course not — you’d hire experienced professionals for those roles. So why put your youngest, least experienced staff in charge of your social media?

Just because the tone of social interaction is often chatty doesn’t mean it’s not important. Social media interaction often reaches far more people than official broadcast channels like PR and marketing. Other people can pick up on what’s said, add their own comments, share it with their followers — and so on. The message is then out of the control of the originating company.

Just imagine if a tweet went out by a youngster that sent the ‘wrong’ message. It could be picked up, distorted, amplified and — literally within minutes — the whole world could be talking about it (with a snazzy trending hashtag attached). Even if you delete a post, people will have made copies and it can live on (and be shared) forever — as the examples below testify. There’s no delete button on social media.

Just type ‘corporate social media fails’ into Google and you’ll see what I mean. And, just to be clear, not all of the mistakes were made by youngsters — a lot were made by experienced, high profile people, who just happened not to know what they were doing.

US Airways got in very hot water last year when it tweeted a female masturbation picture as a reply to a disgruntled customer. It was posted by accident — the image had been sent to US Airways from another Twitter user and an employee inadvertently included the link in a response to a customer complaint. Whatever the reason, the result was a massive, global ‘let’s all make fun of US Airways’ social media storm.

Then how about Twitter’s CFO (Twitter’s CFO!) who sent a highly sensitive tweet thinking it was a DM (direct message).

And what about disgruntled employees? Those who’ve had enough with their employer and vent their frustration on social media. “Thank fuck it’s Friday!”, anyone?

Finally, there’s the famous #hmvXFactorFiring episode, where the company laid off 60 staff but didn’t know how to control the Twitter account. This resulted in the string of tweets below. It’s a classic and very funny — but not if you were the Marketing Director (or the CEO) of HMV.

The key message is:

Hire experienced professionals to run your social media — and make sure they don’t go postal. They may be kids, they may be granddads — just make sure they keep on-message and know what the hell they’re doing!