It all started with what appears to be a blatantly homophobic tweet from RTE’s Radio One Show, The God Slot.
The tweet read ‘Can gays be cured of being gay? Try the God Slot Fri. 17/01’.
The result? Inevitable. A Twitter torrent of criticism and outrage.
Having watched how events rapidly unfolded on Twitter in the hours that followed, I’ve picked up on 10 golden rules of social media crisis management that RTE have failed on. Had they followed the rules, the crisis which is still ongoing may have been a minor spark, quickly extinguished, rather than the spreading fire it has become.
1. When you’re mid-controversy, don’t fuel the fire
So RTE have already had their fair share of negative attention this week after they removed part of a recorded show from their website. The recording of RTE One’s Saturday Night Show which was edited involved Rory O’Neill’s comments on homophobia.
So what do you do when you’re stuck in the middle of a homophobic controversy? Well, if you’re RTE’s The God Slot, you get right onto Twitter and put up the most homophobic statement you can think of.
Really?! You put a fire out with a tanker load of gasoline?
No RTE…that’s exactly what you don’t do if you want to quash some negative publicity. That’s how you invite a PR disaster in.
But they did….oh boy, did they!
2. Don’t post overtly offensive tweets and expect people to know it’s not your actual opinion
The show’s reaction to the criticism it encountered was to claim they were simply tweeting a question which was being asked. As the tweeting masses rightly pointed out: no speech marks, who was asking it, and why were RTE giving such an offensive question credence at all?
RTE have since claimed the tweet was ‘poorly worded’ according to thejournal.ie. This may be an understatement. Some may suspect deliberately misleading and controversial to be closer to the mark.
3. Don’t get defensive
Social media crisis management 101: don’t get defensive. If you’ve messed up, don’t try to defend your mistake. Put your hands up, apologise, and try to minimise the damage. Getting defensive only aggravates your critics and turns the conversation into a Twitter argument. Just don’t do it.
What did The God Slot do? Well, they got a little defensive. They suggested through their responses that their critics were the ones in the wrong because they had rushed to judgement. *Cringe*.
It went down well as you can imagine.
4. Don’t try to SHOUT your critics down
So you’ve got everyone’s back up by offending them to start with, then suggesting that they’re in the wrong and not you, so what’s next? Why not just shout at them – that’s bound to settle the situation. Of course it is.
Block capitals indicates a raised voice in this tweet. That ought to calm things down – well done RTE.
5. Don’t insult your critics
The cherry on top has to be when the tweeter in question pretty much called everyone who criticised them a fascist. Clearly irate and frazzled at this stage, Mr. or Mrs. The God Slot lost their cool and let it all out.
Where on earth was this person’s boss, RTE’s social media monitoring team, their PR people, their crisis management team…? Did nobody think to stop this tweet?!
6. Don’t try to cover it all up
So, insult added to injury and everything else that had gone wrong, somebody clearly stepped in. About time!
How did they do?
Well, deleting the most offensive tweets was a good place to start. What they didn’t do is openly tell people they had removed the tweets. This in itself means you risk it looking like a cover up.
With Twitter already alight with outrage about the tweets, there was no way this could be covered up. Damage limitation was all RTE could hope for at this stage.
And the Tweeters were not hoodwinked. The removal of the tweets did not go unnoticed. Twitpics of the very tweets started appearing quickly, and the discussion turned to the fact the tweets had been removed.
Being open about the action you’ve taken to remove the offending comments and why you’ve done so will win you more respect than not.
7. Respond directly
Before the offending Twitter account had acknowledged anything had gone wrong, a writer for thejournal.ie was able to tweet RTE’s position on the situation. If you’re apologising, do it directly.
This may seem like a minor quibble given that there was only a matter of minutes between Paul Hosford’s tweet and The God Slot’s published ‘apology’. Nonetheless, an apology from the offender to those they’ve offended directly would have been the best way to handle this.
8. Don’t give a half-hearted apology
If you’re going to apologise, do it right. Don’t be ambiguous. Admit if you were wrong.
RTE’s half-hearted apology seems to have caused almost as much annoyance as the original offending tweet. The inclusion of the word ‘if’ in the apology, together with the reference to ‘the contributor’ made it a wishy washy, limp attempt at an apology. And the Twitter masses were quick to pick up on it, and tear it apart.
9. Be quick about it!
Timeliness is everything when it comes to social media crisis management. If you don’t nip an issue in the bud fast it will become that monster you cannot tame. The original tweet which started the controversy went out at 3.50pm. It took until 9.26pm for them to issue an ‘apology’. The phrase too little too late springs to mind.
As I write this, it’s now 1am and the failure to deal with the issue in a timely manner, and in the right way, means the storm rages on. @thegodslot, slot and @rte are all still trending in Ireland according to trendsmap.
RTE have still not managed to put this one to bed.
10. Train your staff
Prevention is indeed better than cure, and all of this may have been avoided if the person manning The God Slot’s Twitter account was equipped with the right knowledge and skills to manage the account.
A social media crisis can happen to any organisation, of any size. For an organisation as big and as media savvy as RTE to not have properly trained staff manning all of their social media accounts is unforgiveable.
As one tweeter pointed out…
It’s hardly fair to expect any individual to handle your social media channels without the relevant knowledge and skills.
And will the RTE lamb in question survive the slaughter one wonders, or will they be called upon as the obligatory scapegoat?
So there it is: a list of 10 golden rules to handle your social media crisis which RTE may wish to share with their social media staff.
There is an air of suspicion amongst some Twitter users that this was a deliberate publicity stunt. Perhaps, but I refer back to golden rule number one. This would be a very risky strategy given the situation RTE were already in, but possible.
So as Ireland sleeps, one wonders what tomorrow will bring in the RTE ‘cure the gays’ Twitter scandal. Will this spreading fire be extinguished, or is a roaring inferno on its way?
Author: Aine Bermingham, Digital Marketing Specialist, Ireland, Northern Ireland and UK.
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