That’s more or less the logic and argument being put forth by the president over the last few days in response to one update that seemed to acknowledge he intentionally engaged in obstruction of justice.

It’s a common excuse, one that’s given by any company or brand when a Twitter or Facebook or Instagram post goes sideways. They will throw the program manager, or an underpaid intern or someone else under the bus, pegging them as the cause of the problem. The offending post will be deleted and the whole incident will hopefully disappear before the industry press catches on and makes more of it.

Mistakes are natural in social media marketing. They happen. The specifics of how blame is apportioned may vary but it usually falls into one of two big buckets, both of which don’t hold much water when put under any sort of examination.

#1: We’re Not Responsible

whose fault is thatThis one is a favorite of companies that use agencies for their social media work. If a mistake happens they will quickly seize control and let everyone know that it wasn’t them, it was their agency, someone supposedly not affiliated with the brand so don’t associate those negative feelings with us, thank you very much.

The problem here is that the company is the one who hired the consultant or agency and gave them the mandate and ability to speak on behalf of the brand. That’s an extraordinary and humbling responsibility, one I always took seriously over my career, even if I didn’t always take the execution seriously. The company who has done the contracting is still on the hook for what’s published under its name and answerable for it. If you’re uncomfortable with that situation, educate yourself to the point where you can handle the program internally. Otherwise get comfortable with a workflow that takes the final trigger out of your hands.

#2: It Was a Low-Level Staffer

levels of incompetenceWhile we can have a conversation about the relative inexperience that seems to be in demand by companies looking for “social media experts,” the reality is that social hasn’t been delegated to interns for a good long while, if it ever really was. Anyone who ever did this was making a bad decision. Interns may have been part of the team, but leaving them unsupervised means final accountability lies with the manager who wasn’t keeping an eye on what they were doing.

Again, this excuse doesn’t actually make anything better. It’s still someone working for you and presumably operating within the prescribed workflow. If that’s not the case, you have bigger problems than entrusting your corporate reputation to someone without the necessary skills or perspectives.

Stop Making Excuses, Start Fixing Your Processes

If at any point in the last 10 years you’ve found yourself on the cusp of making either of the above excuses – or any of the variations on them – you have bigger problems. It’s not that an intern has a level of access they shouldn’t. And it’s not that your contractor or agency made a regrettable misstep. It’s that you have a workflow problem. There are ways to fix that:

  • Review your approval workflow. Who sees what before it’s published? Where can additional checks be added that don’t impact timeliness?
  • Review access levels. Is someone an admin on an account when they should be an editor or contributor? Are you using a CMS that tracks usage?
  • Review program goals. If one small mistake is going to upend the entire program, perhaps the foundation and goals were never that solid to begin with.

In short, mistakes happening aren’t opportunities to assign blame and cover your own butt. Take responsibility for what happened and engage in productive activities to limit the chances it, or something similar, will happen in the future.

You may never be able to eliminate all mistakes – we’re human beings on the other end of the screen and sometimes we’ve typed “Batman” so many times that day we don’t catch that this time we spelled it “Bartman” – but you can decrease the rate at which they occur.

That’s as good as you’re going to get and, in the end, it looks much more professional than ruining someone’s career because of poor wording.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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