EMS and social media: Don't be a Weiner

How you respond to social media mistakes matters, especially when you are in the public's eye as a trusted source of information

The recent controversy that started with former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) posting a bulging boxer photo on his public Twitter feed and ended with his resignation from Congress holds some key lessons for EMS practitioners.

Rep. Weiner initially denied that he was responsible for the scandalous photo. He claimed that his account had been hacked and the photo "may" not have been of him, although he refused to outright deny or confirm its nature.

It is not unheard of on Twitter for someone intending to send a direct (and therefore private) message to accidentally publish it instead to their public stream for all to see. That is what appeared to have happened with Rep. Weiner despite his "hacked" claims, but he persisted that he had not been responsible.

After a week of pressure and scrutiny from the media and his peers, he finally admitted that he had indeed sent the photo and that it was of himself. We all know what happened after that.

Lessons for EMS
Social media mistakes or errors can be not only embarrassing, but also damaging to your reputation. For agencies whose social media presence is viewed by the public as a trusted source of information, the risk of damage to their reputation is equally high, if not significantly higher, because of their raised profile.

So, what can we learn from the so called "Weinergate" debacle?

How you respond to social media mistakes matters, especially when you are in the public's eye as a trusted source of information. As with all great responses, you need to have a plan ready to put into action:

  • Identify and remove the erroneous entry. While it may have already been seen by some of your subscribers, there's no reason to keep it there when it is an error.
  • Quickly admit to the error. Don't ignore it or lay blame elsewhere. When you make a mistake you need to accept responsibility and admit fault. Blaming phantom hackers, faulty software, or unauthorized access will generate scrutiny, especially from your extremely tech savvy subscribers.
  • Apologize for the mistake. Mistakes happen, so don't be afraid to apologize for having made one.
  • Respond appropriately to communications from your network. Social media thrives on conversation. Be sure to be part of it, especially as it concerns your actions.
  • Identify the cause of the error. Learn from the mistake. How can you avoid this type of error from occurring again while continuing to deliver the high quality information that your subscribers are accustomed to?

Congressmen aren't the only ones who may accidentally create and distribute inappropriate social media content. The American Red Cross had a similar incident on their Twitter account in February of this year when a member of their social media team sent a message from the agency's account that was meant to come from their personal account.

The American Red Cross responded quickly by deleting the rogue tweet, admitting to the error both on Twitter and their blog, and responding to the concerns of their network quickly and with some humor.

The event even turned into an unorthodox opportunity to gather donations and spread news of the positive work the agency does. Because the American Red Cross was forthcoming and honest with their network, the public continued to value them as a trusted source of information.

Internally, to avoid repetition of the incident, their social media team members no longer use the same applications for both the agency's account and their personal accounts.

Social media is ultimately powered by humans who can and do make mistakes. The effects of these mistakes, whether positive or negative, will depend on how your agency chooses to handle them.

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