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@USAirways: One Missed Detail


In case you were hiding under a rock (or don’t use social media almost at all) yesterday, there was a massive screw-up on the part of one of the social media guys over at US Airways. In short summary, he accidentally tweeted a pornographic image in response to a customer complaint, and the tweet was live online for an hour before being deleted, giving the internet (not to mention their 400k+ followers) plenty of time to notice and start talking.

Needless to say, everyone on Twitter was abuzz. There were some hilarious responses, many people outraged, and of course there was plenty of fallout for US Airways. Many are criticizing the way that the company handled the gaffe, noting the delay in the tweet’s removal, their mediocre apology, and speculation on how and why it happened.

The reality is that people sometimes mess up. Human error is a real thing. That’s not to say it was ok – it was a big mistake; one that likely cost that individual their job. Absolutely this is an argument for why you need a well-trained, mature, responsible, and professional person running your brand’s social media. But I guarantee you US Airways didn’t just hire someone’s nephew as a social media intern. They most likely have a full team of experienced social media people running their accounts.

It’s also an argument for why you need checks and balances, but then, with social media and the need for real-time responsiveness (particularly with something like responding to a tweet from someone sitting on a tarmac) there’s no way to have two sets of eyes on everything.

So how do you prevent a gaffe like this? The reality is, there’s no surefire way. Hire good people. Set up backup systems where you can. Most of the time, that should cover you. Beyond that, it just comes down to everyone paying attention and double-checking everything that they do. This is no small challenge for those working in social media – we write and send hundreds of posts every week. (In US Airways’ case, they send roughly 400 tweets per day.) Do you know how easy a cut and paste error is – particularly when you’re in a rush or trying to do 12 things at once?

On the Brandfolder blog, we talk a lot about how to be more productive, how to save time, how to get more done. But one thing comes up again and again in our research for these articles: the fact that multitasking doesn’t work well. Tweet errors like this one are a perfect example of why trying to do too much too fast is a bad idea. One missed detail like an incorrectly pasted link and you’ve usurped the news cycle with loads of bad press for yourself.

We can all take many steps to prevent these sort of muck-ups, but errors are bound to happen. The best thing you can do when one comes up is to have a good response plan. While US Airways did release a statement accepting responsibility and apologizing, and gave the aforementioned mediocre twitter response, they didn’t do a stellar job of recovering. It took them a full HOUR to take the tweet down. Now, a day later, many of us are laughing about the whole thing, but it’s yet to be seen what the long-term impact will be for the company. Not to mention their social media guy’s career.

The lesson we all need to learn here isn’t “hey, don’t tweet inappropriate things.” We should all go back to our companies and to our marketing teams to evaluate how things are done, and make sure that we have a response plan in place for if and when an egregious mistake is made. How would you handle it? 


Paul Arterburn is a Co-founder and the Head of Product at Brandfolder, a Techstars Boulder 2013 company. In this capacity, Paul is responsible for overall product vision and execution. This includes managing the development and design processes, constructing and executing the product roadmap, and deploying code daily. Paul is nearing the magic 10,000 hour mark of coding through the dedication of learning 15 different coding languages over the past 15 years. Daring and scrappy, Paul is ready to leave the Web better than he found it: this is what drove him to found Brandfolder. Me in 3: • Movies people can’t believe I don’t like: Star Trek and Star Wars. • My secret talent: As a songwriter my first songs at age 16 were about all girls, and my latest about just one - my fiancé. • My first invention: A wrestling move dubbed 'The Bob Dole' still used across the state of Nebraska today.

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