Keep Calm and Social On: When a Mistake Doesn’t Mean the End

No one wants to make a mistake, much less a highly visual mistake on social media. But it happens, and it happened to Ad Age last week. Guess what? No one was fired, angry readers and Twitter followers didn’t surround Ad Age’s office with pitchforks, and surely no one died (well, Michael Delligatti, the inventor of McDonald’s Big Mac did die last week and has gone on to the Golden Arches in the sky … but that’s only slightly related.)

No one wants to make a mistake, much less a highly visual mistake on social media. Those are the kind of snafus that land you on “Worst Tweets of the Year” listicles from subpar media sites who burn through negative coverage just to keep the lights on. But it happens.

Huge tiny mistake Arrested DevelopmentIt happened to Ad Age last week, and guess what? No one was fired, angry readers and Twitter followers didn’t surround Ad Age’s office with pitchforks, and surely no one died (well, Michael Delligatti, the inventor of McDonald’s Big Mac did die last week and has gone on to the Golden Arches in the sky … but that’s only slightly related.)

What am I talking about? Managing Editor Ken Wheaton’s Dec. 5 article, “What You Can Learn From the Social Media Crisis That Wasn’t” and the tweet in question:

Fun fact: The image of the Big Mac went with Ad Age’s story about Delligatti’s passing … the Vagisil story actually had a video attached to it, but clearly did not play well with the system.

So, 11 minutes following the first post, the folks at Ad Age tweeted what I think is a measured, smart response.

The Vagisil story with a Big Mac image tweet was a MISTAKE. Like many media companies, Ad Age’s content management system (CMS) is integrated with a platform to automate social media. Usually it’s all rosy and saves editors time, but there can be snafus, but here the wrong image got pulled and used with the wrong content.

Was it offensive? No.

A little confusing? Maybe.

Do I think this is a fireable offense? Absolutely not.

As Wheaton explained:

I decided not to take it down. Why? One, this is social media. It was already out there and I knew with 100 percent certainty that someone had already grabbed a shot of it. It’s what I would have done. Hiding it would have just fed the beast. “What is Ad Age trying to hide?” … Two, it wasn’t really hurtful or offensive. If anyone looked bad, it was us. Three, again, this is social media. Despite the intensity of tweet storms, despite it feeling like the world is ending, these things pass relatively fast. Four, 2016 has sucked for a lot of people, and it seemed like our faux pas was actually bringing some sort of joy into the world.

Did the folks at Ad Age learn a lesson regarding how their content gets automated for social? Absolutely. But the bigger lesson, and what I REALLY appreciate Wheaton for sharing, was that Ad Age let the mole hill be the mole hill. There weren’t even flames to fan, and I think if they had made a bigger deal out of the mistake, it would have been like replacing a fan with a blowtorch set on high.

Bravo Ad Age for realizing that making a harmless, slightly embarrassing (and kinda funny) mistake is not the end of the world. We all screw up sometimes, but if we learn something from the situation, then it’s worth it. And kudos to Ken Wheaton for writing about it so candidly. It’s one thing to leave the tweet up and acknowledge the “oopsie!” and it’s another thing to let us in, and let us learn from a mistake so perhaps we can avoid making a similar one.

And with that, let me leave you with Wheaton’s apt, closing words:

Words do matter, sure. But getting outraged over every little thing is not only exhausting, it’s childish and lessens the impact of actual outrage. If we’re all outraged all the time, when something is truly outrageous, no one cares. It’s the equivalent of crying wolf.

And a last word of advice for marketers. Don’t do anything offensive or hurtful. Don’t say anything offensive or hurtful on social media. And if you do do something stupid, especially if it’s an accident, sit tight and give it a chance to blow over.