What to do When You Make an Online Mistake

Whether managing your personal account or updating an employer or client account you’re responsible for, making an online mistake can be embarrassing to say the least. Online mistakes can also be costly in terms of damage done to an individual or firm’s reputation. As many celebrities and newsies have discovered sometimes what they felt was an innocuous statement can become quickly controversial and viral.

A client recently asked me how to deal with an error that went out in a post. There is no “easy answer” to this type of question, of course. The answer is really “it depends.”  It depends on what the “oops” was, how many people are likely to see it, what the potential negative ramifications might be and–importantly–whether a follow up message might bring more attention to the issue rather than defusing it. Believe it or not in some (many!) cases, it may be best to just “let it go” rather than throw fuel on the fire by keeping the conversation going.

But, that said, if you are unable to delete the “oops” before it’s been widely seen, and you decide that some sort of follow-up is necessary, these are my tips:

  • Identify your target audiences and connect with key constituencies or individuals off-line as appropriate – e.g. through phone calls, private emails, etc.
  • If you do decide to generate a broad online message, be brief and to the point – apologize for the error or misstep, and provide a correction
  • Respond consistently with your organization’s or client’s corporate image/brand – for instance, if you’re a “fun” company you might be able to say: “Oops, we goofed! – Here’s what we should have said.” If not, a more formal response, consistent with the tone of your ongoing communications, would be most appropriate.
  • Don’t make excuses and don’t place blame on others.
  • Try not to become engaged in any online back and forth about the issue – if it becomes necessary attempt to take any ongoing discussion offline.
I think it’s also important to note that the same types of considerations can also be applied to mistakes made in non-social media channels.  The considerations are the same; the element of risk that social media adds, of course, is how rapidly and widely the information can spread. We all make mistakes and, interestingly, consumers tend to respect organizations and their leaders when they are willing to admit to a mistake graciously.
What you want to do with these sorts of issues is address them quickly, stop the conversation and move on. What you don’t want to happen is to escalate the issue unnecessarily so that it stays alive and becomes an ongoing subject of conversation.

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