Lessons From Kansas City Chiefs Social Media Blunder

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kansas city chiefs twitterWhat happened with Travis Wright and the Kansas City Chiefs on Twitter earlier this week was nothing less than a classic example of a brand’s social media misstep. And, as these things do, the story quickly went viral. And while I abhor “lessons from” posts, as I watched this unfold and the conversation that ensued, there was just no way around the word, so deal with it.

In a nutshell, like many fans in our fair city, Travis Wright, @teedubya on The Twitter, is frustrated that our team sucks. And that management doesn’t really seem to care about anything more than raising ticket prices. And seriously? Who really wants to fork over tons of dough to go to a football game if your team stinks?

I digress. The short version of the story is that Travis tweeted the Chiefs and, as is the case with oh-so-many fan rants, he wasn’t nice. He was pissed off. His frustration was that for the fourth year in a row, the Chiefs are at the bottom of salary cap spending and his contention is that Clark Hunt, the Chiefs owner is hoarding salary cap dollars. His opinion. Here’s the tweet:

travis wright chiefs tweet

Here’s what I know about sports. Of any kind. Every fan who watches sports has an opinion about how things should be done. From the salary cap to starting players to strategy on the field, the court, the diamond – you name it. Fans have opinions and they share them. Vociferously. Thus, it goes with the territory when you’re a sports team, that dealing with fans and their opinions is an integral part of your corporate communications strategy.

Travis’s exchange with whoever was running the Chiefs Twitter account apparently annoyed that person so much that sent him a snotty direct message, which is here:

chiefs twitter

Then, to make matters worse, they blocked him. Blocked. As in I’ll show you, loudmouth, BAM. Blocked. Kind of a harsh move for a brand that should be well accustomed to fan rants. And that’s the first lesson.

Think Before You Act

Snotty DMs? Blocking a follower? Is that really necessary? More importantly, is it the right step? It’s not possible to say NO loudly enough here. And in this instance, being snotty and pretty much downright rude—to a rabid fan (which is surely something that happens on a daily basis), and then blocking them? Bad move. But even worse–doing all this to active Twitter user with a follower base in excess of 124,000 followers. Holy moly, what was that person thinking? Oh wait, I’m guessing they weren’t thinking.

Know Who You’re Messing With

For those who thought Travis’s tweet and behavior were uncalled for? Let me remind you we’re talking about sports fans. Who, in my experience, are rabid, passionate to the max, prone to unruliness and often not afraid of tossing in a curse word or two. In this case, and as it relates to the Chiefs and the skills of their community manager, Travis’s Twitter bio claims, right up front, that he’s prone to the occasional sport and political rant. It’s not like who he is and what he does for a living (read that: expertise in social media engagement and strategy) and the fact that he’s opinionated are any secret. He puts that right out there.

Digital Interactive Awesomizer & Marketing Provocateur. I share social resources, strategery, tech news, hilarity and the occasional sport & political rant.

travis wright twitter bio

Recognize the Power of Influencers

If you’re going to do something ballsy as part of your “crisis management tactics,” it’s best if you understand the power and the reach of whomever it is you’re engaging with. That’s pretty much a cardinal rule—and one that often gets brands into trouble.

The thing about that decision to block–it not only surprised Travis, but it pissed him off. And the thing about those of us who know our way around the Interwebs shouldn’t come as any surprise to any person anywhere managing social media communities for a brand. When you irritate, insult or treat the denizen of the web in a way that doesn’t make sense, we do what we do best. We write about it. We write blog posts, we record video, we save screen captures because we know you might want to try and hide later, and we share our thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit … and anywhere else we hang out. It’s not being mean, it’s what we do. We talk about stuff, we ask our friends what they think. We dissect the situation and often, we try to learn from it so that we can avoid similar mistakes for our clients.

Travis’s subsequent post about this over on Reddit added fuel to the social media fires already burning. And, it’s no surprise that before the day was over, he was contacted by media outlets from all over, wanting to hear the story. And share the story with their audiences.

Act Human, Own Up to Mistakes and Move On

The good thing about things like this is that whether you’re a large brand (like the Chiefs) or a small one, if you pull a bonehead move, it’s really pretty easy to fix it. And the secret to fixing it? It’s amazingly simple. Just act like a human. Step up, admit that whatever you did was a mistake, and own it. Apologize to the parties involved and move on. And believe it or not, our collective attention span (and the attention span of your customers) is typically so short that in many instances a mistake like this one is not really that big of a deal. Which is a tremendously difficult concept for so many brands to understand. As my friend, Kristi Colvin, said as we were discussing this on Facebook, “I’m as guilty as anyone over bashing someone at face value Justin, but you can’t take the human out of social media just because it’s a corporate account. Everyone suffers and everyone makes mistakes sometimes. This plastering far and wide and talking about informing the media (a serious joke) a fan was not spoken to politely when they were trying to be antagonistic to begin with, is what gives sm folks a bad rep as well, in my opinion. I grew up with the motto “Nobody’s perfect!” and I still believe that – that perhaps it’s because I was a rotten child is speculation for another time. ;-)”

Whether it’s the dumb move by Kenneth Cole’s ill-timed tweet about Cairo or someone manning the Chevrolet Twitter account inadvertently dropping the F-bomb, stuff happens. And that’s never going to change.

Never Forget What Not to Do

There is never any justification for treating a customer—or a fan (rabid or not)– disrespectfully. If someone is ranting or baiting you, recognize that. And before responding, step back, think, ask for advice, review your policy–decide the best course of action before you act. In many instances, that best course of action is just to ignore it and leave it alone. In other instances, a response like “We’re sorry you’re unhappy” or “Let’s agree to disagree on this one” or “We don’t agree, but we do respect your opinion” are a way to try and diffuse the situation.

What you don’t do? That’s the easy part. You don’t get snotty. You don’t get swept away by passion and block someone. You do your homework and understand who it is that you’re talking to and understand the damage that’s possible as a result of their influence within whatever community it is this is taking place. And you act, at all times, with respect. And when you mess up, don’t make excuses. As my friend Vince Vaughan so succinctly put it, “That’s what children do, not adults.”

The Chiefs did eventually apologize to Travis after this thing went viral. The thing they didn’t think about? He didn’t see their apology, because they blocked him. D’oh.

Everything Matters, and a Plan is Imperative

Kristi’s contention as we discussed this was that the situation should have been chalked up to someone having a bad day and making a dumb decision—but that’s rarely how it works in real life. And the lesson here is that every single thing you do, as a social media community manager, a PR professional, an agency spokesperson or representative reflects on your client. And it matters not, ever, if you’re having a bad day. What matters is protecting the image and reputation of your client. Always.

The takeaway for brands is, first and foremost, always have a plan in place for when the you-know-what hits the fan. A social media crisis plan is a must, including specifics on how and/or when to reply to certain posts in the social space and specific content for your team to use.

The Training? It Should Never Stop

The other important thing, as evidenced here and elsewhere: train your people. And the training? It should never, ever stop. If, as Kristi suggested, it was someone just having a bad day, that happens. But if you’re having a bad day and you’re charged with community management as part of your job, either get the heck over your bad day, immediately, or get someone else to step in until you do. It’s that simple. And as Kate Ottavio, one of my super smart PR friends says, “You don’t put your client or your company in danger of being a social media case study.” This isn’t the kind of thing you can tell your team once and expect them to know. Talk about this in meetings and have training sessions with mock crisis scenarios—teach them about how to deliver great customer service in the social space, even with a contentious fan or customer.

There you have it. The lessons that I think are worth talking about as it relates to what shall forever be known as The Day The Chiefs Told Travis Wright to Get a Clue. And then wished they hadn’t.

Oh, and the funniest part of the whole thing? This:

travis wright whoa

And then I was, like, Whoa.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Are we collectively too hard on brands who goof up or does the fact that social is mainstream and, for many, a primary means of communication mean that everything matters. And delivering great customer service in every channel, no matter what, but especially when you’re out in the open, is more important now than ever before? You know I wanna know what you think.

Lead image by Alex E. Proimos via Creative Commons

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