What's making Chrysler's moment of social F-bomb shame particularly embarrassing is not that an agency is tweeting for the automaker. It's that this scrutinized Twitter account was abruptly subject to road rage (both literal and figurative, it seems) -- regrettable, unpremeditated road rage.
Regardless, brands can't bat a thousand in social media engagement because, just like with any other form of publication, broadcast, or interaction (or anything public facing for that matter) consumers have differing tastes and sensibilities. A community manager's job is to meet the social objectives of his brand and to foster conversation -- preferably positive, but there's often great opportunity gleaned from the negative.
Just as there's a difference between constructive criticism and lambasting, there's a chasm between a screw up and a fuck up. Last week's Chrysler F-bomb tweet debacle is the latter, and not only because of the obvious F-bomb itself, which does contribute to the exacerbation of the situation. There's room for error in social media, but not when you're taking a swipe at Detroit and the very same ad campaign that's generated Super Bowl-sized buzz.
Ultimately, the only thing I can judge fairly from outside Chrysler's social practice is whether the person responsible for the tweet should have been fired. Answer: yes. In one tweet, he managed to badly blemish the brand that had entrusted his agency and, in turn, his agency in him with the social keys to the brand. The error tweeting a personal tweet on the corporate account alone would leave open a possibility of a second chance. Taking aim at Detroit and using profanity closed that door.
Should the agency have been fired? Not for me to say but if the client was thinking about a change, this could be the proverbial straw. Remember, whoever is responsible for the company's social media engagement is also responsible for the protection of the brand.
In my case, as the first social community manager for Dunkin' Donuts, I'd already been with the brand in a corporate communications role before I helped take the brand social. I knew the rules and the brand inside and out and saw Dunkin' Donuts' social presence as a direct extension of the brand experience. In knowing the brand, I was given enough latitude to experiment. I was also able to have fun with it, cultivating a spirited following and the attention of social media aficionados and social media heavy breathers alike. Luckily, we didn't have to shoot metaphorical t-shirts out of cannons to engage our following, as I mentioned in this New York Times trend story saying I wouldn't "swear" on the corporate account. (They left the Duh! out of the quote.)
This is the closest I came to fucking up (that I know of). In June 2009, while traveling for Dunkin', I was on a plane that was delayed pulling off the gate in Atlanta. After an hour with little communication from the crew, we were tersely informed over PA that the aircraft was "broken" and we'd be deplaning. I considered the flight attendant's wording odd, so I tweeted the development from Dunkin's twitter feed. Then I tweeted, You can't spell ruDDer without DD.*
As it turns out, shortly before these tweets, Air France flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Had I known, I wouldn't have tweeted anything about broken airplanes or probably anything else for that matter. I learned of my mistake moments after tweeting when a few followers let me know that my timing was poor. In a cold sweat, unable to delete the rudder tweet via mobile, I scrambled to have my colleague back at DD headquarters delete the ill-timed tweet. I deleted the tweet not to cover my trail, but because it was the right thing to do. I did not follow up with an apology tweet to all followers -- it would have only called further attention to an honest mistake -- a screw-up.
For me, it was a lesson learned: take a step away from the keyboard or mobile device before sending a tweet, especially when it's on behalf of someone or an organization. But you can only be so careful when you're letting it fly in real time, which is why screw-ups will happen. Regardless of how careful you are, there will be a tweet or a Facebook post or a Flickr caption or whatever else that may blow up on you. And, if you're doing your job, you will be prepared for this moment and accept responsibility for it and you will survive.
The worst damage the Chrysler F-bomb tweet may cause, I fear, is organizations feeling the need to scrutinize tweets and their kindred social media the same way they scrutinize media statements and press releases. Heightened scrutiny should instead be given to determining the right people to hand a brand's social keys over to.
*[Note: I've recounted this sequence of events from memory, as I don't have access to the DD tweet archives from that day.]