It happens every day. Sometimes several times a day. Among the 500 million tweets sent daily, at least one will cause a brand, a politician or a celebrity to receive a public shaming.
The vast majority end with a mea culpa and the lame-ass explanation that the intern or social media manager was responsible. And usually, that person is fired (or at least we're told that's what happened).
Many of these debacles begin with a #hashtag inviting people to comment on an issue and use that tag. Unfortunately, if you don't think of the possibility that Twitter denizens will mock you, you can be eaten alive in a trial by public opinion in a matter of moments.
We cover the Twitter debacles of the week in all 100-plus episodes of the "Beyond Social Media Show" that I co-host, and we never run out of examples.
Recent #hashtag screwups
Here are some of the most recent Twitter screwups. And apparently, nobody saw any of them coming.
#TellingItLikeItIs: Chris Christie. International Business Times reported that more than 3,000 tweets with the hashtag #TellingItLikeItIs were sent via Twitter in the first few hours after Christie made his announcement, according to data compiled by the social-analytics firm Topsy.
Typical responses were like this one from Michael Phalem, @phalem166T #TellingItLikeItIs: "That time when @ChrisChristie funneled $600 million in taxpayer fees to Wall Street firms."
#SummerInSyria campaign by Syrian government met with horrific images of the carnage of war, although I guess they expected vacation photos.
#AskELJames, by the author of the god-awful prose that was "50 Shades of Grey," devolved rapidly.
My fave tweet: "What do you hate more: women or the English language?"
And then there was Donald Trump, who is currently a frontrunner on the Republican side. You've all heard about his idiotic tweets, so I won't rehash them. I don't want to give him any more attention.
#AskBobby by Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor and presidential candidate, invited Twitter to ask him anything and was promptly tarred and feathered in the responses.
My fave response from @politicalgroove: "If you're not a scientist when it comes to global warming how are you a doctor when it comes to women's reproductive systems?"
What's the plan?
Of course a smidge of common sense in all of the cases I've cited would have prevented the tweets and #hashtags from ever happening, but there is apparently quite a dearth of common sense on the planet.
Given that screw-ups will happen, it crucial to have a plan for handling them as soon as they rear their ugly little heads.
Here are the basics for handling Twitter debacles:
1. Apologize immediately if you are wrong and say what you'll do to fix the problem
2. Have a sense of humor about your mistakes if nobody got hurt as a result of them.
3. Immediately acknowledge customer complaints and say, "We're here to help. Let's fix this."
4. Even if all you can say is, "We're looking into this issue right now," don't say nothing. "No comment" went out as a corporate response somewhere back in the dark ages before the internet.
5. Never ignore complaints. That means you need to monitor your brand 24/7 and acknowledge every complaint one-on-one within one hour. Brands want to take the complaints out of the public view, but a savvy kvetcher will keep the complaint public. Be prepared to respond publicly.
6. If the issue is serious -- child pornography accusations, selling food that makes people sick, or, god forbid, kills them -- be sure you have a plan in place about who'll be the spokesperson and how you will respond until you have all the facts. Silence is deadly because critics will not be silent and your brand can be tainted in minutes.
7. Do NOT blame the intern. Nobody will believe you anyway.