Hand on heart, when was the last time you screwed up at work? How bad was it? Did it make the newspapers? That’s the reality quite a few people I know operate in. Here’s an example from a few days ago:
A typo. Sometimes that’s enough to make CNN and Al Jazeera. Look up the definition of “an honest mistake” in the dictionary and this photo could be next to it. The keen of you will have noticed that it’s the @UN account. The very same Twitter account me and my then boss started in 2009 (novelty fact: then called @UNIC). I truly feel for my successor who had this misfortune, as I know better than most how difficult the job is and how meticulous one has to be.
Back when I used to manage it we didn’t have a team, and since news doesn’t take the weekend off it was rather stressful at times. I remember many mornings, especially on Saturdays or Sundays, going through the news from home and reading one tweet 20-30 times before posting it just to make sure it was correct. The Gaza flotilla story in 2010 is a terrific example of how difficult it could be. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had released a press statement with the headline:
“UN human rights chief condemns violent interception of Gaza aid flotilla”
It’s unusually outspoken to be the UN, condemnations aren’t common. Since this was before my morning coffee I must have gone over the tweet and our guidelines in my head at least 50 times before I posted. All of this under time pressure to make sure we carried the story. The combination of a UN official for once actually expressing a point of view and the fact that we posted it early on meant it went banana bonkers. Viral doesn’t begin to cover it. I think we got over 10,000 new followers that day, and this was at a time when we perhaps only had a 100,000 or so followers. It turned out to be a catalyst for the account. After that single tweet we would gain around 5,000-10,000 new followers per week no matter what stories we reported on. It was the catapult to our mature account that live coverage of events was to it in its wee beginnings.
Social Media is an unforgiving business. Can you imagine making a mistake and then instantly showcasing it to over a million people? Yet, you have to be creative and push the envelope to attract attention and spread your word. It is therefore exceptionally important that the business environment you are in is aware of the fact that mistakes will happen. And that it is forgiving when it inevitably does. Operating under the assumption that the guillotine is behind every typo is a sure way to stifle any creativeness and innovative spirit. This is universal no matter what business you are in. But with Social Media I would argue that being conservative is to the detriment of the business as the account in all likelihood will be counterproductively boring. Bad to good accounts do information, great accounts do infotainment. It carries that twist that makes you want to know more.
I’m sure my successor will emerge stronger from this. She will go over the routine, surely add some new cool tools to her bag of tricks and come back with ignited passion. She can always find solace in that she’s not alone. UN Radio knows how to deliver that aforementioned twist with the best of them: