Donald Trump had a hissy fit on Twitter this week.
He raged against the election results Tuesday night, labeling them a “sham” and a “total travesty.” He cried revolution and, in classic middle-school fashion, mocked NBC News anchor Brian Williams for calling him out on the air.
That’s business as usual from The Donald, a harlot for publicity and vociferous critic of President Obama. What’s new is that Trump deleted a couple of tweets
from Tuesday night: namely, the one calling for revolution and prematurely asserting that Obama had lost the popular vote. (The president ultimately won the popular vote.)
Chances are, none of you is dropping such fanatical tweets, whether from your personal account or that of your company or client. But there will come a time—if it hasn’t already—when talk of deleting a tweet arises. Maybe your boss disapproves, a lawyer finds it worrisome, or the Twitterati are in a tizzy over it.
When should you delete a tweet?
Here’s a quick rule of thumb: Delete any tweet that you intended for your personal account, but that appeared on your company or client’s feed.
Unfortunately, if someone retweeted it before you hit delete, that message is out there for good. For that reason, you should also issue an apology tweet with a brief note of explanation.
Take KitchenAid, for example. During the first presidential debate, a tweet appeared on the brand’s account, saying: “Obamas gma [grandma] even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’. #nbcpolitics”
The tweet was quickly deleted, but not before it sparked a swift and furious backlash. Thankfully for KitchenAid, the company quickly got to work remedying the crisis
• First, it issued an apology via Twitter.
• Then the head of the KitchenAid brand, Cynthia Soledad, began tweeting from the account. She apologized to “President @BarackObama, his family, and everyone on Twitter.”
• In a follow-up tweet, Soledad explained what happened: “It was carelessly sent in error by a member of our Twitter team who, needless to say, won't be tweeting for us anymore.”
• Then, she tweeted a brief note saying she takes “full responsibility” for her team and thanked Twitter users for “hearing me out.”
• After the mea culpas, Soledad started tweeting at major media organizations, informing them she was ready and eager to grant interviews on the subject.
The gaffe was a hot topic for less than 24 hours, before it faded from view, thanks in large part to the company’s handling of it.
Guidelines for deletion
A politically charged—not to mention tasteless—tweet from an appliance maker is one example of when to delete something on Twitter. For some general guidelines on deleting, I spoke with a handful of social media managers. Here’s a short checklist of when to scrub a message from Twitter, based on their input:
• If it's an errant, “off-brand” tweet, which might include offensive photos/videos, bizarre rants, or something with profanity;
• If it has typos or serious grammatical errors;
• If it was a direct message that went public (see: Anthony Wiener);
• If Legal tells you to delete it (for any of the insane reasons legal will make you delete anything);
• If it’s a half-finished tweet that you sent prematurely;
• If it was deemed offensive or insensitive. One brand manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “The gesture of taking it down is what counts, I think, since everyone will already know what it said.”
Of course, on the final point, one man’s (or woman’s) offensive tweet is another’s bold or hilarious statement. That is where this issue becomes murky: If a group of people finds something you wrote offensive, but you don’t, should you delete it or stand by your tweet?
Take Trump’s “revolution” tweet. Was that tweet sent in a moment of anger? Does he not really think the U.S. should revolt against an Obama administration? Or, by deleting it, was he just responding to the negativity it provoked?
sent a tweet to Trump requesting an interview, but didn’t hear back.)
Into the murk!
For the answers to this question, let’s look at an incident that occurred in April, when the Romney campaign hired former Bush administration spokesman Richard Grenell as its national security and foreign policy press aide. After taking the job, Grenell deleted from his account more than 800 tweets, many of which ridiculed women, from Hillary Clinton to Jessica Simpson. He also issued a half-hearted apology for them.
At the time, Brad Phillips, a media trainer and frequent PR Daily
contributor, agreed with the decision to delete the tweets—after admonishing Grenell for sending them in the first place—because it helped shrink the news cycle. Phillips wrote
“A spokesperson who once said stupid things and then deleted them is better than one who said stupid things and proudly continues to leave them on public display under their Twitter byline. And a dumb tweet that's been removed will likely occupy less media air than one that used to exist.”
Grenell didn’t last long at this job. He resigned
two weeks after taking the position, citing “personal issues.”
Ultimately, Grenell’s tweets—even if he meant them—were potentially damaging to his employer and, possibly, to his ability to get work in other campaigns. That should be your benchmark on tweets that others deem offensive: If it’s going to ding your employer or client, or hurt your own career or personal brand, delete it. As for Trump, perhaps it’s best to follow this suggestion from online marketer TJ Dietderich:
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