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How to avoid a social media SNAFU.

Every time you turn on the news, it seems, there's another unbelievable tale of someone doing something really stupid on social media.

And all too often, that person is one of our own: an elected official who showed poor judgment and typed something he or she really shouldn't have.

Considering the growing list of public figures who have made uncharacteristic lapses in good judgment, it appears just about anyone can make a mistake.

So, how can you avoid committing an embarrassing social media faux pas, especially one that could be career-ending?

And, if you do make a blunder--as most of us will--how can you recover?

Here are some tips you may have heard before, but bear repeating. You really can't be too cauious in this world of instant communications.


Use the "front page rule."

No tweet or Facebook update is ever truly private, and this is particularly true for elected officials. A good rule of thumb is this: Never put anything on the Internet that you would be embarrassed to see on the front page of your local newspaper. Never.


Pause and think.

Before you click that send button, take five seconds and ask: Is there any way this tweet could get you into trouble? Could it be misinterpreted? Used out of context by political rivals? If you can answer yes to any of these, stop what you are doing.


Double check, twice.

Remember when Dan Pfeiffer, a former aide to President Obama, infamously tried to tweet the word "bigger," but mistakenly hit the letter right next to "b," the "n" instead? Even though his tweet slip was accidental and he immediately deleted it and apologized, the damage was done. Pfeiffer is one of many to commit this mistake, and there's a simple way to avoid it: Check what you've typed before you hit send; better yet, let someone else proof it.


Get training, for you and your staff.

Many a politician has fallen victim to social media ignorance. British Member of Parliament Simon Danczuk, for example, accidentally favorited a pornographic tweet. Sure, mistakes happen, but good training can lessen the odds of making such errors. To that end, be sure that you and your staff are fully versed in the use of all social media platforms, including their nuances and idiosyncrasies.


Don't go there.

Create a list for you and your staff on specific topics to avoid that might not be obvious to your staff. An elected official who has been cited for littering, for example, should avoid being Instagramed with trash or a trash can visible in the picture. It will serve only as a reminder to others of the original gaffe.


I Divide and conquer.

Programs like Hootsuite and TweetDeck can be godsends in helping you manage multiple accounts, across several platforms. But it's still too easy to confuse your personal and professional accounts. Phil Hardy, a former communications aide for U.S. Representative Raul Labrador, for example, tweeted "Me likey Broke Girls" in response to a quasi-racy ad featuring the stars of the CBS sitcom "2 Broke Girls."

He likely meant to send the tweet from his personal account, but instead sent it from the congressman's official account. The tweet was up for a mere 14 seconds before Hardy deleted it, but it was too late: Hardy was fired shortly afterward. To reduce the odds of making such a mistake, limit your use of multiple accounts on programs like Hootsuite and, if you do use them, do so with extreme caution.

Sometimes all the prevention in the world can't stop you from making a mistake, big or small. So, what do you do when the inevitable mistake occurs? Here are some thoughts.


Apologize twice.

The first apology doesn't need to be perfect. But it does need to be fast. When something offensive is said, don't wait for someone to give you instructions. An immediate apology is vitally necessary; you can perfect the language later, in a second apology.

Delete and acknowledge. If you mess up, it's appropriate to delete your post, comment, tweet or photo. As an immediate follow up, however, note that you deleted the previous comment, acknowledge that it was wrong and explain why it was a misake. That way no one can accuse you of attempting to cover up your mistake. Call in your team. Find out what happened and figure out what you will do about it. Then, within the boundaries of what can be said given certain HR constraints:

* Discuss the incident.

* Make a full apology.

* Take personal responsibility.

Even if you didn't post the offending remark, as the elected official, it was made in your name. You have to own it. Doing otherwise looks like you are ducking responsibility.


Batten down the hatches.

No matter how genuine your apology, you will be criticized. Understand that people will attack you for your mistake; be prepared to deal with it and accept their criticism.


Prepare your troops.

Make sure your staff know the game plan, and know they shouldn't delete any visitor's post or comment that doesn't violate social media policies.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence's staff, for example, wrongly deleted Facebook comments that did not violate social media policy, but merely expressed criticism. The governor apologized for the error, but the deletions continued even after the apology. Make sure your staff know your rules and expectations.


Live and learn.

There is only way one to make a social media scandal "worth it." Learn from it. Identify the mistakes made and changes you can make to your policies or staffing to ensure they don't happen again.

Social media mistakes may not be totally avoidable, but most aren't fatal. By and large, if you use sound judgment, you can tweet and post to your heart's content. If the photo meant for friends goes public, so be it, your caution assured it was appropriate for all audiences anyway.

But if your judgment is questionable to begin with ... well, maybe you should look into putting a safety lock on that "send" button.

Michael Schlossberg is a Pennsylvania representative and the author of "Tweets and Consequences: 60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avert a Career-Ending Mistake," available on Amazon.
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Title Annotation:TOOLBOX
Author:Schlossberg, Michael
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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