Should brands stop pre-scheduling tweets—forever?

When news about tragic events spreads across Twitter, pre-scheduled tweets can make brands and individuals look foolish. Is it time to stop this common practice?


After Friday’s horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., I kept up with the latest developments through Twitter (I was nowhere near a television).

Most of the people in my Twitter feed were sharing links to news articles about the shooting or their thoughts about the awful incident. But hours after the shooting, there was still a steady stream of automated, obviously pre-scheduled tweets.

I was particularly struck that several of my fellow media trainers—ostensibly the experts in how to communicate publicly—were still sending out automated tweets.

More than five hours after the shooting, one asked (perhaps ironically): “Do you have a spokesperson who has trouble staying on message? I can help!” And six hours after the shooting, another touted her ability to help your message appeal on a more “personal” level.

Sigh.

With so many off-note and off-message tweets, it’s no wonder some PR professionals have concluded that automated tweets should be a thing of the past. As Ontario-based Mach One Communications put it on its blog:

“What is the point of Twitter, you ask? It’s certainly not an advertising tool to be used in the middle of the night while you’re nestled up sleeping … The point of Twitter is to engage in real-time.” Although many social media “best practices” mavens share the conclusion of Mach One Communications, I disagree.

Here’s an example of how I use prescheduled tweets. If I’m going out with my wife, I try to leave my phone in my pocket, so I’ll occasionally preschedule a few tweets before leaving for the day. That works fine, as long as I’m in a place where I can check my phone if I receive a “breaking news” text alert about an event such as Friday’s; if I do, I can quickly delete any scheduled posts.

My fellow media trainers didn’t do that on Friday. But before I get too sanctimonious, let me make a candid admission: It could have been me. I can see how I could have been similarly caught—on a plane without Wi-Fi, for example—as HootSuite “helpfully” sent out my pre-scheduled, non-Newtown-related tweets.

So from now on, here’s my plan. I’ll continue pre-scheduling a few tweets, but if I’m going “off the grid” for more than an hour or so, I won’t schedule any. There’s simply no need to get caught doing something I teach other people to avoid.

Brad Phillips is the author of the book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He tweet @MrMediaTraining.

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