What to do when you are wrong

By Matter

As the world of social media heats up for PR pros and marketers, the inevitable question arises – what to do about errors posted to social networks?

The Poynter Institute’s live chat asking, “How should journalists handle incorrect tweets?” recently caught my eye. Among the suggestions offered by journalists for dealing with errors on social media, I applaud Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong,” who recommended that “everyone who’s involved in spreading news also needs to be involved in correcting it — and, right now, in helping to figure out how best to do so.” Schulz suggested Twitter perhaps offer a ‘correct’ function (like ‘reply’ and ‘retweet’) that would automatically send a correction to everyone who had retweeted something that contained an error.

Poynter also recently linked to a great working list posted this week on Zombie Journalism, “Accuracy and accountability checklist for social media.” PR reps should keep handy this list of questions to ask before posting (or reposting) on Twitter and Facebook. Among the gems, for Twitter, “Is the original tweet written clearly enough to be passed on from me?” and, for Facebook, “Is the post text and headline reflective of the content of the story?”

This topic sadly has been the subject of discussion in media circles during the past two weeks after several erroneous reports appeared of the death of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords following the shooting in Tucson on Jan. 8.  Columbia Journalism Review collected positions on the subject from several major outlets in the blog post, “To Delete or Not to Delete?” Many said they kept their original tweet or Facebook post live, error and all, to appear fully transparent to readers and followers. Others deleted the incorrect postings so the false news would not continue to spread online.

Of note, the CJR post was reported by Craig Silverman, the author behind Regret the Error, a site that both pokes fun at the media’s missteps and details how to handle serious errors with class.

This recent talk is a sober reminder that we, as public relations professionals, have a responsibility to think before we act on social networks, and to not trade speed for accuracy. But we, as fallible human beings, can at least handle errors on social media with grace and candor – hopefully, just as we would when speaking to someone face to face.