Seconds after one of Jai Manselle's NBA clients accidentally tweeted out classified information about negotiations to end last fall's lockout it was already too late to delete the 140-character message.
"It was immediately reblogged, screenshot, retweeted and disseminated heavily," said Manselle, a public relations specialist whose firm represents clients ranging from the American Red Cross to Sean Combs.
The people who handle public relations for high-profile clients know it's not a matter of if, but a question of when a celebrity, athlete or politician will get himself or herself in trouble for something they post on Twitter. The top P.R. firms are actively implementing strategies to make sure their best-known clients don't turn today's tweet into tomorrow's headline. That can range from simple and frequent reminders ("never tweet while intoxicated") to taking complete control of a client's Twitter account.
"We had to not only be proactive on Twitter, but monitor and rebuff the firestorm across news outlets, sports blogs and fan communities," Manselle said of the NBA player's Twitter goof. "The take away message being that a simple tweet can cause a firestorm of controversy and when a celebrity is in direct contact with their fans and every major media outlet in the world, 140 characters will travel far beyond the walls of Twitter."
For many celebrities, Twitter seems more about socializing than maintaining an image. They would never book an appearance on a television show without running their message by thieir P.R. firm, but many tweet without thinking of the ramifications until later. And that means people with hundreds of thousands of followers are always just 140 characters away from getting themselves in trouble.
"Contrary to popular belief, all PR is not good PR. Unfortunately, too many have learned this lesson the hard way--through various faux pas on social media platforms, namely Twitter," said Shrita Sterlin, Chief Executive and Brand Officer at Penn Strategies, a full-service, boutique communications firm, specializing in high-profile public relations and marketing campaigns. "I tell clients to think of the Twitterverse as a room full of clients, investors, media representatives and their grandmother. It is important to maintain professionalism, but at the same time, be yourself, be engaging and be responsible. "
The NFL schedules Gail Sideman of Publiside Personal Publicity prints each year and hands out as company promo items have the reminder "TWEET RESPONSIBLY!" printed in bold type on the back. She has a list of rules she gives to clients who use social media, including:
- Write, review, (consider ANY negative connotation if there is) edit, review, proof...if still questions, delete.
- If in doubt with a post that you believe is not editable, DELETE before you send! (Don't even bother letting someone else look at the words...if you're conflicted, you're better off not hitting SEND.)
- If the verbiage of a post criticizes any group of people or individual, do not send -- or even say it.
- When posting facts/stats, double-check the listing before you send.
- Breaking News? Check with THE source to make sure the story is true. If you cannot connect with the source of the story, don't post it. There's no need to be first unless you KNOW that you're right.
"I've had many incidents where my clients have expressed their personal view on something controversial like religion, sex, or politics, and it came back to haunt them," said Paula Conway of the New York City publicity firm Astonish. "I always tell them that no one wants to change their beliefs, but they must consider that their opinion has weight and visibility because of who they are, and if their reputation matters to them then they should keep their personal opinions in the home, among friends, but not in the public eye."