What Was Your Biggest Social Media Mistake? What Did You Learn? | Beth's Blog

What Was Your Biggest Social Media Mistake? What Did You Learn?


Flickr Photo by elycelfeliz

“I made a mistake.”   Those are hard words for some people to utter when there has been a screw up and they’re responsible for it.   It is especially hard given the blame game culture that exists in most workplaces and work relationships.  That’s where people are quick to point a finger at you and make you feel shame.  After all, nothing focuses the mind as like a hanging as Samuel Johnson once said.

I feel very differently.   If I made a mistake, I admit it and try to learn from it.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Standford, has spent decades demonstrating that one of the crucial ingredients of successful education is the ability to learn from mistakes.  “Unfortunately, children are often taught the exact opposite.  Instead of praising kids for trying hard, teachers typically praise them for their innate intelligence. . . . This type of encouragement actually backfires, since it leads students to see mistakes as signs of stupidity and not as the building blocks of knowledge.”

The ingredients of successful social media strategy are to learn from mistakes and Networked Nonprofits have cultures that allow this happen.

I had the pleasure of doing a mini-workshop on the “10 Habits of Highly Successful Tweeple” for a small group of people from nonprofits who work in the sexual and reproductive health movement.    I finally had the right audience to share the c-word on Twitter mistake story that I had read about over the summer thanks to Wendy Harman.   It’s a great one to add to the Failfaire archive.

Over the summer, London Mayoral advisor Steve Norris commented in the media that “the National Theatre should have a Compulsory Demolition Order” in a public hearing about the city’s South Bank arts precinct.   The National Theatre responded on its Twitter account with:

Clearly, this was a slip of the fingers.   Maybe the person who runs their Twitter account meant to send the Tweet on their personal account.  Maybe they should have thought twice before click send.    But the reaction from Twitter followers was more surprising.

Yet, despite this reaction, the next tweet from the National Theatre was to blame an anonymous hacker.

They didn’t fool their Twitter followers.  The reaction:

It was clear that the audience didn’t buy into Theatre blaming a hacker for the slip of the fingers or poor judgment.  Mistakes happen in social media (and many other areas).   In social media, if we are honest and human about, we will be forgiven.

Danielle Brigida from National Wildlife Federation said the same thing when we presented on a panel at Blogworld.  She told the story of how a co-worker had tweeted something about how they were excited about the new season of the show Dexter by mistake on the organization’s account instead of her personal account.   Mistakes happen.  They apologized and moved on.

Nonprofits aren’t the ones that have screwed up with social media.  Here’s a history of corporate blunders.

What was your organization’s worst social media mistake?  How did you handle it?


24 Responses

  1. If I may stretch this theme a little, a mistake I learned from with snail mail could just as easily have been with social media. I mailed invitations for a fundraiser which had no ticket price, something an intern caught after we’d gone to the post office. So it looked like a free event! I called the Development Director in a panic, and he laughed and said that it was a great opportunity to do a followup mailing. He had me do a neon colored postcard with a headline of “We made a mistake!” and text about how having been up nearly all night at the UN to monitor a deadlocked nuclear weapons treaty conference had left the staff (me) so tired that we made the error. So it gave us a second chance to reach donors with the invitation, a way to tell more about what we do, and a chance for donors to identify with the human side of otherwise officious-sounding arms control negotiations that we reported on. Glad to read this article and be reminded of that lesson, which I too often forget!

  2. Talya says:

    Not sharing my mistake (yet!) but…After Toronto elects Rob Ford as its new mayor just two days ago, an provincial Minister goes and tweets “If u vote Ford u r voting for bigotry.” Not a big deal in itself, considering perhaps the large anti-Ford campaign that had been going on for the duration of the campaign leading up to Monday’s election. But, the Mistake? Following pressure from other Ministers, and the public, the Minister issued a statement one day later – apologizing for his tweet!

    “I do not believe Rob Ford or Stephen Harper or Tim Hudak are bigots. I regret tweeting a message that said otherwise, and am sorry I did that,”

    Come on, if you are going to tweet it, stick with it. Going online isn’t just about politics (saying omne thing one day and changing your story the next). It’s about understanding social media and what you say on twitter, stays on twitter – forever!


  3. Great post, Beth.
    I think it’s important to realize these things happen. I once accidentally tweeted a picture of my dinner from the corporate account – these things happen. I was so embarrassed, but the next day a co-worker said she thought it was cool to see the branded account humanized a little, and nothing more came of it.

    Anyway, good thoughts on remembering we are all humans behind these tools, and mistakes aren’t just something to push aside, they’re there to help us move forward!

  4. Being sure I’m tweeting from the right account is one reason why I use Echofon for my personal account (@kenrg) and TweetDeck for my professional account (@NonprofitKenG).

  5. joelb says:

    yes, great post, Beth. i constantly have to catch myself when using Tweetdeck which i sometimes use to update both personal (@blazing) and professional (@oxfam) accounts. Hootsuite is tougher to screw up on… though not impossible! i don’t have a hail-mary twitterfail in easy recollection to share, but will definitely let you know when it happens. we’re all human, eh!

  6. I’ve found that my biggest mistakes in social media actually involve NOT doing something, rather than doing something…

  7. Totally agree that sometimes there is more to learn from errors than from successes! Great post!

  8. aprillins says:

    I found your 10 Habits of Highly Successful Tweeple very very useful and much more interesting. thank you so much Beth.

  9. @jasoninman says:

    Accidentally tweeting a personal tweet from the corporate account is one thing, accidentally tweeting a personal tweet from the CEO’s account that you help monitor… that’s a doozy.

  10. John Powers says:

    I’m not professional at all, but from a personal perspective I’ve made mistakes and there’s the Internet to prove it.

    Met a friend at a party who works for a non-profit that serves a very vulnerable group of people. I got an earful about the organization’s foray into social media. Obviously it’s possible for reputable organizations to do social media all wrong, but my suspicion was that wasn’t the case here. So I tried to say what was probably going on which I’m sure seemed a distinction without a difference to my friend. Now I’m a follower of her organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. From what I can tell, so far so good.

    I’m telling the anecdote because addressing the biggest fears about social media head on is important. What makes my friend a terrific advocate for the people she serves also makes her suspect social media. She won’t have confidence in her organization’s strategy unless her concerns are directly and honestly addressed.

    You’re brave, honest and true. Thanks for this post.

  11. Great post Beth! It’s good to remember that we all make mistakes, but social media can be a forgiving medium so long as you fess up!

  12. Okay, upon request I’ll elaborate. 😉

    A couple of examples of mistakes by NOT doing something:

    When I worked at a symphony orchestra, I didn’t respond to a Facebook Group called something like “Some B*tch *ss Bastard Stole My Cell Phone At the Symphony.” I should have probably checked in to see if I could help and resolve the issue, but being a lowly employee, I didn’t know if I could do that.

    And not responding to some blogger inquiries because, again, I was just a lowly employee and I felt it was implied it was not really desired (might have been my own insecurity).

    Just shows the importance of a policy and of senior managers and supervisors understanding social media. Then again, I should have done a better job explaining to those supervisors and senior managers….

  13. The biggest mistake that people make is that they think they can sell with social media…
    Slowly, slowly, the illusions of social media will come to light!

  14. Just wanted to share info on a great book I’m reading now on the subject (of mistakes)


  15. I am very new in social media. I need to learn a lot. I can learn a lot from your post. For me your 10 Habits of Highly Successful Tweeple is very useful.

  16. Dan Michel says:

    My biggest mistake was posting on Facebook something about a very influential political leader being an a**hole then linking to the organizational blog. Made it appear like my org was calling the person an a**hole rather than my own personal opinion (which still stands).

    Thanks for the fun post Beth!

  17. Jay Geneske says:

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who has accidentally tweeted on my orgs channel instead of my own. (Esp. With Hootsuite or Tweetdeck) where you choose the channels with a simple click.)

  18. Pre-Twitter & social media days, but a memorable mistake.

    I was working in the IT department for a non-profit and we’d had some troubles with Internet access that were traced back to our National headquarters. One afternoon most of our staff lost access to the Web. When it was restored a little later, someone in the IT department (not me, but I’m not naming names) sent out an e-mail to all the staff at our site to say the problem was fixed and if anyone still had trouble they should contact us.

    The e-mail closed with: “We apologize for any incontinence this may have caused.”

    Uh… Hint: Never blindly accept what spell check offers. We’re pretty sure he meant “inconvenience.”

    Honest, I thought nobody read those kinds of messages. OK, I admit–*I* rarely read those kinds of messages, except to note that a problem has been fixed. But apparently *lots* of people read it. We got e-mails back and even a few people coming over to our office to share in the joke. It really lifted our spirits for the rest of the day–except one poor IT staffer who blushed a lot.

    Lesson applicable to all media: Check your spelling carefully.

  19. Jennie Ryon says:

    Great article. So many common mistakes that we can all learn from. I’ve fell victim to posting a business tweet from my personal account before. I’ve found another great article with other common mistakes and some simple solutions.


  20. Hi Beth,

    Great topic. As I mentioned via tweet, my experience with mistakes in the nonprofit fundraising arena has been varied based on stunningly different cultures.

    At the University of Florida, I was fortunate to be a part of a centralized, well-coordinated fundraising operation. This environment allowed us to approach each mistake as a learning experience.

    Unfortunately, during my tenure at the University of Michigan, the culture was (and still is) significantly decentralized. There are many examples of how this structure helps develop great strength in academics and research. However, the environment has a less beneficial impact on the fundraising and development sector of the university. Approximately half of the development staff report through a central office, while the other half report through the various schools, colleges, campuses and units.

    The challenge this provides is that goals, responsibilities and resources do not necessarily align across the campus silos. This makes opinions and campaigns more competitive, which I readily admit can improve overall efforts. Unfortunately, it also means mistakes that could provide a learning opportunity instead are used as a wedge item to diminish a colleague or justify a reallocation of resources.

    All the best,

  21. […] media is still a pilot. (Check out the growing catalog of mistakes recently listed by readers on Beth Kanter’s blog.) You are going to have good days and bad […]

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  24. […] Cross: Twitter Mistakes and How To Handle Them Back over the summer,  I wrote a post called “What was your worst social media mistake?  What did you learn?“   If you read through the comments,  misdirected tweets (tweets sent to an organizational […]