Lessons from Red Cross: Twitter Mistakes and How To Handle Them | Beth’s Blog

Lessons from Red Cross: Twitter Mistakes and How To Handle Them

Failure, Reflection, Transparency

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 account, not a personal account or private message sent out to all) were the most common.      These ranged from tweeting about a favorite television show to much worse,  tweeting the “c-word

Back in November, someone in Senator Dowd’s office made this epic Twitter mistake.   They apologized and moved on.  In a discussion thread about this mistake,  my colleague Wendy Harman from the Red Cross said she hoped that if her organization made this mistake, she could find humor and an honest discussion.

Well, late on the evening of February 16th,  I got a DM from Wendy saying,  “The dreaded tweet!  We took care of it.”  The Red Cross managed to turn a PR disaster into a fundraising opportunity.  All because they’ve built relationships with their network over the past few years, swift action, and knowing how to deal with mistakes.   Here’s a play by play of the Twitter Faux Pas

The Red Cross admitted on its blog that it accidentally tweeted something that was intended for a personal account, not the institutional account.   That Tweet, out in the wild for about an hour,  did not go unnoticed by Twitter followers, Beer bloggers, and, of course, Wendy Harman at the Red Cross who got awakened in the middle of the night with a call from a staff person in Chicago wanting to know about the Tweet.

Thinking quickly, they did disaster recovery on the rogue Tweet.  Deleting the tweet, and replacing it with the one below.

While it was out in the wild, DogFish Beer (the subject of the original tweet) acknowledged the incident by asking fans to donate to the Red Cross on Twitter.    Given the response from its network (and DogFish Beer), the Red Cross turned this mistake into fundraiser.    They again thanked their fans for their understanding that a 130 year old humanitarian organization is made up of humans and helping them turn their faux pas into something good.    Using humor again, here’s their fundraising pitch:

Please join Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in raising money for the American Red Cross.

If you’re interested in donating a pint, please click here to learn more about Red Cross blood drives. Note: Alcohol can often make you more dehydrated. Dogfish Head recommends not drinking immediately before or after donating!


The mistake turned into a fundraiser also attracted a lot of attention and traffic to their site according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  The hashtag #gettingslizzerd, a reference to drinking too much, trended on Twitter.

Twitter mistakes are going t happen.  What can learn and put into practice to mitigate the results?

  • You can’t hide or not respond:    The Red Cross is an organization that deals with life-changing disasters.  While the errant tweet wasn’t one of them, it could have escalated into a disaster of PR kind if the Red Cross has simply deleted the tweet and ignored it.
  • Act Quickly: The rogue tweet was only out in the wild for an hour before Wendy Harman got a call.   Had the apology taken more time to set into action, this might little mistake might have been a big mistake.   Here the Red Cross has affiliates who are obviously scanning their stream across different time zones and there is obviously a “in case of Twitter emergency call …”  written down some place.
  • Admit your mistake and humanness: The Red Cross openly admitted their mistake and asked forgiveness.   Had the mistake been a lot of worse,  it might have been a different story.
  • Use Humor When Appropriate: The Red Cross dealt with the situation with humor.   Both out on social channels as well as internally.    A good laugh helps reduce embarrassment and avoids having people make fun of you because you’re doing it yourself.
  • Build Your Network Before You Need It: The Red Cross has been a model of a Networked Nonprofit and building relationships, listening, and engaging.     As a result, this mistake did not escalate into an angry crowd on Twitter.
  • Employees Should Use Different Twitter Apps for Personal/Organizational: Many Twitter apps allow us to tweet from several accounts and if you’re using them on a mobile phone, sometimes it easy to mess up in this way.   Perhaps employees who tweet personally and on behalf of the organization should use different apps for personal and organizational.     Or maybe don’t drink and Tweet.

How would your nonprofit deal with a Twitter disaster?   What is your takeaway from this mistake?

Update:  Read Wendy Harman’s inside account.

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26 Responses

  1. Beth,
    Great great post! I linking to this over at my Blog and love the way you laid it all out! Brillant recovery by the Red Cross as well.

  2. Jackie says:

    Loyalty is a remarkable listening system. Thank goodness for @prsarahevans who texted me as soon as she saw it. This story could have ended in a terrible hangover had she not alerted us.

  3. Ellen Rossano says:

    Beth,

    I think one of the best points here is “Build Your Network Before You Need It.” The fact that Wendy and the Red Cross built an engaged community helped them respond to the errant Tweet pretty quickly. I thought the response was perfect, and as a member of that community, I made it a point to echo that support.
    File under “How To Respond to a Social Media Crisis!”

  4. Beth says:

    Jackie: Wow, that was fast!! How much do you trust the network to ping you when something goes wrong vs having a formalized shared monitoring system? Wow, this is a great example of the power of networks.

  5. 2 great examples everyone can learn from! Mistakes are going to happen. Pulling off professional humor is easy too. Most of us get it and chuckle! The one thing companies and people running social need to be reminded is that we do not think they are infalible. Now this humor is dead on, Ken Cole’s not so much.

    I watched the Red Cross one play out live….it was fun to watch and see what their next move was going to be and it was mastery!

  6. Sarah says:

    This is SUCH a great post. I run 4 accounts in all (one being my personal one), and I’m always worried about this, but I’ve never seen it discussed. Your points are so helpful.

    I use CoTweet, and one thing I’ve done to reduce my chances of this is set my personal account as the “default.” That way, it takes a conscious effort for me to Tweet from the organizational accounts. This does mean that once or twice the “organizational” tweets have come out of my personal one- but that is much less disastrous than the other way around!

  7. Event 360 says:

    Awesome post!

    Stellar job by the Red Cross. I think the biggest takeaway from this situation is that unintended mistakes/errors can be forgiven, if handled with grace and humor.

  8. Wendy says:

    Thank goodness for Jackie! She had my phone number and wasn’t afraid to call. Since this has happened, I’ve now exchanged phone numbers with a bunch of community managers. We’ve previously only connected with social tools, but we all want to be prepared to have one another’s back when something like this happens. If anyone else wants to exchange numbers, let me know!

    Thanks for laying this out, Beth, and for being a sounding board in the middle of the night and always. It’s truly great to have you in our network.

    As you can see from the first part of this post, I was a casual fan of the mistaken tweet. I noticed that companies take a big hit whenever they act stuffy about them, so when it happened to us I knew right away we needed to just lean into it. After all, it was a much more fun “disaster” than we’re used to dealing with.

    After something like this happens, I can also highly recommend going skiing, maybe with a group of very experienced skiiers who will push you to do all the black runs. That way, you’re not obsessed with checking Twitter because you have to concentrate on surviving the mountain. That’s what I did, anyway, and it was awesome.

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  10. Beth says:

    Wendy: Thanks for sharing that insight … another example of networked nonprofit work flows!

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  12. This is an amazing example of how find the silver lining in an embarrassing situation. It also shows you how great the Red Cross is at social media! You guys get it!

  13. Shari Ilsen says:

    Beth thanks for this wonderful post, and thanks to Wendy for being such an excellent role model for how to manage social media both in and out of a crisis.

    I think this is also a great example of how important it is to always maintain an honest and personal voice when communicating online – even if it can be scary during times of crisis, when it’s more comfortable to adopt a more formal “party line” message. But our communities, whether fully built yet or not, will always respond better when they feel we’re being sincere and up-front.

  14. Ashley says:

    I am constantly shocked and amazed at the carelessness of people and their social network “fails”! I am so glad you posted this…hopefully it will ensure people will take a second look at what they are doing prior to hitting the dreaded “send” button. Additionally, Dogfish should really be commended for turning a nightmare into an excellent opportunity…even if an unexpected one.

  15. Bar says:

    Thank you Wendy,great post !
    Finally one advising what to do instead of the regular what NOT to do…

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