Weiner, Favre and the 38th Thesis

When I first heard about the racy photo tweeted from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s account, I thought the “I’ve been hacked” defense seemed dubious, especially since Rep. Weiner had not chosen to have law enforcement authorities investigate the alleged crime.

I thought it was much more likely that he had simply made a mistake, and replied to a tweet from the young lady in Washington state instead of sending a direct message with his photo. It’s a difference between typing “@” before her username instead of “d “ – which made the photo link visible to his 45,000 followers, and by extension, to the world.

Following his mistake, we now know Rep. Weiner broke just about every rule of PR and crisis management – making up a story about being hacked, denying that he had sent the picture and evading the question of whether the photo was of him. I thought the low point was when he berated ABC News’ Jonathan Karl for “not understand(ing) how social networks work.”

Monday we learned that the simple explanation was in fact the right one. As The Hill reported:

“Once I realized I had posted it to Twitter I panicked, I took it down, and said that I had been hacked,” Weiner said at a press conference in New York. “To be clear the picture was of me and I sent it.”

In actuality, Weiner had committed one of the classic errors of the micro-blogging platform: tweeting a message that was intended to be sent as a direct message. Direct messages are private messages that can only be sent to a user to one of their followers.

This outcome, especially when considered in light of a similar issue involving former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre (OK, he played for the Vikings, too) and the allegations of his “sexting” a female sideline reporter when he played a season with the New York Jets, provides a fitting illustration of a principle I’ve found myself regularly mentioning in presentations, and which I am now codifying as my 38th Thesis:

Social media raise the cost of bad behavior because they make it more likely misdeeds will be discovered.

By the account of Jenn Sterger, the photos Brett Favre allegedly sent her via text message were at least as explicit as Rep. Weiner’s. But we’re still saying “allegedly” in the Favre case, partly because the photos were sent via SMS instead of on a social network like Twitter. And her revelation came about two years after the alleged incident. The first news story about the Weiner tweet, by contrast, showed up within just a few hours.

Twitter is much more powerful as a communication vehicle than text messaging is because tweets can be discovered and spread by anyone, and because for regular tweets (as opposed to direct messages), there are no intended “recipients.”

But the same tools that can be so beneficial when used for good can have devastating effects when mishandled. The Favre sexting controversy took two months to be resolved,  with the NFL commissioner finally settling on a $50,000 fine. The Weiner case took 10 days from tweet to tearful confession.

Of course there were various differences between these two examples, and it isn’t my point to go through these fine distinctions. I just think it’s interesting to see how rapidly the Weiner case developed, and to consider how social media accelerated his decline. Two weeks ago tomorrow he was being mentioned as a leading candidate for mayor of New York. Today he has many of his party members in Congress urging him to resign.

In my presentations I have often suggested that users should apply the “front page” test to all of their online postings. As we’ve seen recently with Rep. Weiner, sometimes those postings really do make the front page.

What do you think? What are the social media lessons you take from this case study?

SXSW Health Track: One Day to Submit Your Panel

I’m honored to have been asked to serve on the Advisory Board for the 2011 SXSW Interactive Festival’s one-day health track.

From everything I’ve heard, the social health unconference in March was fantastic, which is what led Hugh and the SXSW gang to go for the full-day health track.

My problem with SXSW is the timing; it’s always around the first week of Minnesota’s high school basketball tournament, and I have a son who will be lacing ’em up for the Austin Packers for the next three years. Depending on the date for the health track, I may be able to attend, but it’s questionable.

Which makes me, I guess, a good Advisory Board member, since people serving in that role can’t be speakers or panelists.

So…I look forward to seeing lots of good panel proposals, and helping in some way to shape the event. And even if I can’t attend, I’ll definitely be following the Twitter conversation.

I’m keeping this post brief because I want to get it out as quickly as I can: the submission process for panels ends tomorrow, July 9.

Go to the SXSW Panel Picker to submit your panel today.

And I DO mean TODAY!

Or tomorrow.

No later.

Thanks to Reed Smith and Tom Stitt, co-chairs for the health track, for nominating me to the Advisory Board.

City Manager Suicides Increase

That’s the headline I was envisioning when I saw this on the Google home page this morning:

I thought it was the way Google had chosen to announce the city selected for its super-fast fiber community project. And with the mania and hoopla surrounding this contest, I could envision city managers taking one look at their search screens this morning and heading to the window for a leap.

If they waited about 30 seconds, though, some additional links were added to the screen:

Which took you to this post on the Google Blog explaining what it was all about. Or at least calming the panic among city officials whose fiber fantasies had been crushed.

Google has a long tradition of April Fools jokes; given the timing relating to the Google Fiber contest, this is probably on of its better efforts.

Thesis 10: Social Media Can’t Make Up for Bad Products or Poor Service

Picture 7

Social media are not the panacea for all that ails the relationship between organizations and their customers or other stakeholders.

If you treat people badly, they now have not only the opportunity to take the story public, which they always had, but also the ability to tell the story themselves instead of having to rely on third parties like the news media to spread the word.

And of course, as we saw this year in the case of Dave Carroll’s spat with United Airlines, sometimes the story can both go viral and lead to mainstream news media coverage.

The basic story, if you haven’t heard, is told in this United Breaks Guitars video. The customer service representative could have kept the video from being made by simply agreeing to Mr. Carroll’s request for $1,200 in flight vouchers to reimburse his expense for fixing is $3,500 Taylor guitar. It would have cost United nothing in cash, but when Ms. Irlwig said “no” he said something to the effect, “Fine, I will just make a series of three YouTube videos with my story.” Here’s the second installment. If you haven’t watched both of those, take a minute to do so now. I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’re back, here are a few lessons or observations from this saga:

  1. This video didn’t happen because United had a YouTube channel. One of the fears some people have about engaging in social media is, “What if people say bad things about us?” But this video wasn’t posted to the United channel: it was on the SonsofMaxwell channel, which belonged to Mr. Carroll’s band.
  2. This video resonated, which is why it went viral. Anyone who has traveled by air extensively likely has some kind of horror story about poor customer service. If the video didn’t fit built-in perceptions, it wouldn’t have gotten anything like this attention.
  3. Treating the customer right is the solution. After nine months of haggling, Mr. Carroll was just looking for a way to recover what he had spent on guitar repairs. From his perspective, flight vouchers would have been almost as good as cash, as it would at least let him pay less out of pocket for future travel. If Ms. Irlwig agrees, the video doesn’t happen.

Social media can provide great listening tools to alert you to a problem that could blow up into a PR nightmare. But they don’t do any good if you don’t act based on what you hear. In this case, Mr. Carroll was right in Ms. Irlwig’s ear. No complicated listening tools needed. If you’re not going to do the right thing for your customers, social listening tools will be of little value.

As Amy Mengel put it at the time, the secret to avoiding a YouTube crisis is: “Don’t suck so much in the first place!

Twitter 115: 5 Benefits of Twitter Chats


Twitter chats are an amazing way to bring together people for a focused conversation on a particular topic or surrounding an event, such as a conference or Webinar.

There’s no need for the people involved to know each other before the chat, and in many cases the chats can be great ways to connect with people who have common interests. For example, I frequently join the #hcsm chat for people interested in using social media in healthcare, and occasionally join the #hcmktg chat related to healthcare marketing.

For Mayo Clinic, we use a #mayoradio Twitter chat to gather questions from outside our local area for our Medical Edge Weekend radio program, and have done several joint chats with Mary Brophy Marcus (@BrophyMarcUSAT) from USA Today, inviting readers to discuss the topics of her stories with a Mayo Clinic specialist. We’re now using #MayoUSAToday as the hashtag for these discussions.

In 3 Steps to Joining or Leading a Twitter Chat, I take you step by step through the process of joining a Twitter chat. But first, here are some of the reasons you might want to participate. I’ll use the #MayoUSAToday chat as an example:

  1. Public discussion that spreads as it continues. When a new person joins the discussion by including #MayoUSAToday in a tweet, it spreads the word about the chat to her Twitter followers. Any of her followers who retweet or reply to her tweet extend the reach still further.
  2. Broad geographic reach. Speaking of extending the reach, the beauty of a Twitter chat is it can be worldwide. Some diseases or conditions just aren’t common enough to build a critical mass for discussion locally, no matter how metropolitan the location. Getting people together physically is tough, but with Twitter you can gather people with common interests virtually without them having to leave the comfort of wherever they use their computer. And of course with iPhones, Blackberries or Androids people can join the chat from wherever they are: I did a recent chat from O”Hare airport in Chicago.
  3. No need to raise your hand. Unlike an in-person meeting, you don’t need to be recognized by the moderator to ask you question or make your comment. Just include the #MayoUSAToday tag in your tweet, and you’re part of the conversation. If you use the tag to interject your marketing messages into a discussion, you won’t last long in the chat (or in Twitter). Users will report you as a “hashtag spammer” (a term that is part of a Twitter lexicon I plan to publish) and your account will be suspended. But if you’re a real person who just wants to join the conversation without hijacking it for pecuniary reasons, you’ll find people in Twitter quite friendly and open.
  4. Wallflowers welcome. It’s fine to just lurk and listen. You can just click the #MayoUSAToday link, for instance, and watch what others are saying. But more importantly, a Twitter chat can be a great tool to get discussion from the whole audience at a conference, instead of just those who are most verbose and comfortable speaking in public. So when I do a presentation, I generally create a hashtag that enables everyone to comment or ask questions. This can help make sure we hear from the introverts, whose ideas may not otherwise get as much consideration as they deserve, which leads to the final point…
  5. No time limits. Many if not most Twitter chats have a set time during which people have agreed to gather. The #MayoUSAToday chats are scheduled to run for one hour, during which time our Mayo Clinic subject experts are online to answer questions tweeted by USA Today readers and others drawn into the conversation (see Benefit #1 above.) But the time expiring doesn’t mean you can’t continue to tweet using the hashtag, and the conversation can continue on at a slower pace.  So if someone tweets with a #MayoUSAToday tag three hours after the scheduled chat ends, it just means the question probably won’t be answered right away, as it would during the one-hour window. This also obviously applies to conferences and other in-person meetings; just because people have gone home doesn’t mean the conversation has to end.

In 3 Steps to Joining or Leading a Twitter chat, I will take you step-by-step into joining the #MayoUSAToday chat, and you can use the same pattern to join other chats (or set up one of your own.)