Dr. Phil Needs Prescription for Social Media Crisis Management

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    Deleting posts once they’ve grabbed the public’s attention is a cardinal sin of modern crisis management

    Anyone experienced with social media crisis management can tell you, deleting a post after it’s become the center of public controversy is a major faux pause. Of course, that doesn’t stop an incredible number of well-known figures and organizations from doing just that.

    The backlash is even worse when public perception is that the person should have known better, as was the case when Dr. Phil sent out a tweet asking, “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her?” Here’s more on the story, from a Washington Post article by Monica Hesse:

    On Tuesday, Dr. Phil, drawling psychologist to the masses, posted a tweet that some interpreted as, at best, tone-deaf and, at worst, a tacit encouragement for date rape. “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her?” someone from his account tweeted at 5:49 p.m. “Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.”

    “If Dr. Phil is drunk, is it okay for him to tweet?” responded one follower. Another wondered, “If a person is a mysognyist [sic], is it okay to just refer to him as ‘Dr. Phil’ from now on?” Within a few hours, Oprah Winfrey’s former acolyte became thoroughly detested online. Then, he compounded the situation by committing what has become an unpardonable sin in the public venues through which we conduct discourse: He deleted the tweet.

    On his timeline, the comment no longer appears, but other Twitter users quickly made sure it wasn’t gone.

    “Hey, @DrPhil, if someone deletes his tweet, is it okay to post a screenshot of it?” queried a user who attached a cached image. Others were more direct: “@DrPhil is a bloody coward and has since deleted the tweet.”

    The unspoken rule in social media is that if you say something dumb, you have to live with it. Apologizing can work wonders in terms of helping stakeholders accept, and forget, your mistakes, but, as Dr. Phil discovered, trying to cover things up will only serve to draw out hordes of folks who are more than happy to ensure that everybody knows exactly what you wanted to hide.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]