Digital dilemmas: What can we do to avoid reputational damage?

In the second of a new series, our social media expert explains the best way to manage a social networking gaffe.

Q: With US Airways' retweeting of a pornographic image being dubbed the worst corporate Twitter #fail of all time, what lessons can we learn to avoid the same reputational damage?

While Twitter offers brands many benefits, the speed and ease with which inappropriate or inaccurate information can be posted also makes it a communications channel capable of damaging reputations. Applying the simple 'People, Processes and Technology' framework can help prevent mistakes.


How savvy are you with Twitter's latest interface or the upgrades to your social media management platform? With US Airways, it was user error that resulted in the offensive image being retweeted rather than being marked as spam. While many of us use Twitter regularly in a personal capacity, the platform frequently issues updates and changes functionality. Consider refresher training to ensure you're up to speed with how Twitter works.


Does your organisation have a social media policy in place? Do you know what it says? Policies should help you understand which tweets to engage with and when to flag potentially damaging material with management. They can also guide you in the practical use of technology. For example, use separate platforms to tweet when jumping between personal and professional accounts at work.

This can prevent embarrassing cross-posting and would have saved Vodafone from its now infamous 'beaver' tweet.


The final reputational failsafe is moderation software. While not for everyone, there are software tools that can offer an additional layer of protection between your tweets and the wider world by diverting them to an internal verifier before posting.

If all else fails, say sorry

Finally, it is important to recognise that it's the human aspect of social media that makes it so powerful. This means mistakes will inevitably happen, so being prepared to apologise and learn from them is essential. By saying sorry, admitting an honest error and displaying a human, common sense approach to its employees (by acknowledging no-one would lose their job over the incident), even US Airways has started to generate positive coverage from its reputational crisis. (Not bad for tweeting a picture of a branded plane inserted into a vagina.)

About London College of Communication, University of the Arts London

London College of Communication is a leader in media and design education. It offers BA (Hons) and MA Public Relations courses taught by leading academics and practitioners. Students are immersed in their field, taking on work placements and delivering live briefs for major brands.

Simon Collister, senior lecturer and researcher, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London

Collister has more than ten years' experience working in digital roles with leading global agencies including We Are Social, Edelman and Weber Shandwick. He is currently a senior lecturer and researcher in public relations and social media at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

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