A few years ago, I wrote a post about handling errors on social media. Recently Matt, a regular reader of Heroic Technical Writing (thank you!), found an example of this sort of situation in the wilds of the working world and wanted my opinion of how it was handled. I shall now do so and consider how to handle such situations in the future.
The Post as it Appeared
The error–in this case a blank test posting–went live on Twitter from HBOMax’s account:
We mistakenly sent out an empty test email to a portion of our HBO Max mailing list this evening. We apologize for the inconvenience, and as the jokes pile in, yes, it was the intern. No, really. And we’re helping them through it. ❤️
— HBOMaxHelp (@HBOMaxHelp) June 18, 2021
To recap, here was my advice on this type of error–and fortunately for HBOMax it was just a blank tweet, not something inadvertently offensive:
- Calm down
- Admit the error
- Correct or remove the error
- Apologize, if necessary
- Make restitution, if necessary
- Move on
Based on my reading of the situation, HBOMax admitted the error and explained that it was posted in error. They also apologize. There’s really no need for restitution since no one was inconvenienced or offended. So far, so good.
Rethinking the Corporate Response
I have mixed feelings about the second half of the company’s response:
…and as the jokes pile in, yes, it was the intern. No, really. And we’re helping them through it. <3
On the one hand, they show that they have a sense of humor and recognize that their empty posting (since deleted) resulted in a lot of jokes and no-doubt sarcastic comments. On the other hand, they threw their intern under the bus, as in they flat-out blamed him or her for the error. “No, really. And we’re helping them through it” might be a cute way of saying that the error is being addressed; yet I wonder if they would have been so quick to include the title of the person making the error if s/he was a manager.
If I were that intern, I would not be happy with that part of the message and would prefer that the company stopped at “We apologize for the inconvenience.” Why? My thinking on this is shaped by my time in Disney’s Guest Communications department. Disney would–and probably still does–apologize for cast member actions. They usually do not publicly judge the person. And while my memory is fuzzy on this point (it’s been 20 years since I answered a guest letter), I do not believe that they discuss any disciplinary or other actions taken with individual cast members, jokingly or otherwise, other than to say the guest’s complaint was being addressed.
Guest Communications does not handle social media–that’s another department–but watching Disney in action, my assumption they would simply remove the errant post or make a general apology without placing blame. Ask yourself: would you want to be known as “the intern the company had to apologize for?”
Yes, this is a minor thing. And yes, they made a joke out of it. But again, how would you like to be that intern?
Just things to consider if you’re a manager of the social media department. Sometimes it’s best to just apologize, full stop. Attempts at humor can have unintended and hurtful consequences.
End of stuffy lecture.