When you mess up: A social media apology checklist

No matter how good you are, you will probably make a mistake on social media.  It happens to everyone and it has certainly happened to me. That being said, the vast majority of the real problems that occur when there is a social media error are in the follow-up – or the cover-up.  My experience has been that the general public will forgive a mistake; they won’t forgive a lie.  To that end, here’s how to best apologize when that mistake does occur.

1) Fix it, immediately:  In most cases, it’s completely appropriate to delete the errand post as soon as possible.  You should mention that you have deleted the post as part of your apology, explaining that you did so to stop the spread of such a poor/hateful/thoughtless post.  As long as you mention, in your apology, that you deleted the post, you probably won’t get dinged for trying to “cover-up” your error.  Plus, deleting a bad post is an admission of guilt: it’s an acknowledgement that you realize you did wrong, and as such, are doing what you can to repair the damage.

2) Quick apology – and then a longer one:  During one of the 2012 Presidential debates, KitchenAid’s official Twitter account issued this sterling tweet:


Whoops!  An apology was sent within eight minutes:

KitchenAid Apology

A longer statement was issued later from Cynthia Soledad, the head of the KitchenAid brand:  “During the debate tonight, a member of our Twitter team mistakenly posted an offensive tweet from the KitchenAid handle instead of a personal handle. The tasteless joke in no way represents our values at KitchenAid, and that person won’t be tweeting for us anymore. That said, I lead the KitchenAid brand, and I take responsibility for the whole team. I am deeply sorry to President Obama, his family, and the Twitter community for this careless error. Thanks for hearing me out.”

An immediate apology was followed up by a much longer and more in-depth one.  More to the point, this apology touches on everything that an apology should do: it apologizes broadly (not just “to anyone who was offended”) and emphatically while also containing a measure of personal responsibility (more on that shortly).

3) Reach out to offended party:  If you said something that offended a person, reach out to that person to apologize – and then make sure to mention that in your statement.  It’s appropriate and will give your statement added weight if you are able to say that you have personally apologized to the offended party.

4) Take personal responsibility: As the elected official, it doesn’t matter if it was you or the staffer who made the error.  Remember Harry Truman’s legendary words: the buck stops here.  In your apology, if a staffer was responsible for the error, you need to say a couple of things:

  • What happened that made this error occur.
  • What you are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  • You understand that ultimately, as the elected official, you are responsible for the mistake and take full responsibility for the action.

5) Don’t lie or cover-up:  Remember when Anthony Weiner said he was hacked after pictures of his genitalia were first tweeted?  Yeah, no one believed that.  Don’t say you were hacked.  Don’t say an intern got the controls.  It sounds like an excuse and people will probably see right through it.  Above all else, don’t cover up.  Just be truthful.

6) Look forward:  A social good social media apology should also mention how, going forward, this incident will never happen again.  Better planning?  More training?  Explain what steps you are taking to make sure that the offending error will not occur in the future.

What do you think?  Do I have this right, or is there more to it?  Let me know in the comments!

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