Qantas’s Blackface Mis-tweet & the risks of pro-tweeting

The latest Twitter shock to come from a major Australian brand was a ‘blackface’ picture from Qantas.

Fans in face unusual paint

Blackface Wallaby supporters

Interestingly, a shot of two Wallabies fans dressed up as a Pacific islander – like their hero Radike Samo – was first shown to the country by Channel 9 during their telecast of the Trinations last night.

Later, the same picture was tweeted on behalf of a major Australian brand – and then retweeted in horror by many more – taking down with it, at least for a day or two, the credibility of a company with a nation’s pride and years of neatly managed publicity.

Qantas will no doubt ‘review their policies’ to see it doesn’t happen again, but we won’t find out who tweeted but they may well lose their position.

It’s a harsh reminder that pro-tweeters are held to the highest account for how they represent their employers in the twittersphere. This is not the job of an intern and neither should it be an afterthought of a PR or communications staffer.

Read more about it here: Qantas Endorses Blackface

I saw a response to the scandal that guessed a ‘Gen-Y’ kid was behind the mis-tweet and therefore they’d be ignorant of the racial sensitivities around white men painted black.

The other example of buffoonery was by the otherwise magnificent twitter account of the Queensland Police (@QPSmedia) who foolishly tweeted “our bad” after a list of inaccurate tweets about the arrest of SMH journalist Ben Grubb.

I think the truth is that tweeting can be a dangerous sport. Those on twitter are very heavily skewed to left-wingers who are educated, sharp and most have a keen eye for political correctness. One foot wrong and your poor judgment is retweeted to thousands – just like a teacher reading out your love-letter in the school assembly.

On the other side of the coin, the constant flow of high-profile mis-tweets shows social media producers feel invincible at their peril. In my view, they should be checking anything that causes them to pause with a manager or publicist, before posting. I do this regularly in my job and I have recommended at more than one conference that all companies create a circle of people who can share responsibility for posts.

I tweet for a living.

Tweeting professionally sounds very simple and risk-free until you become the voice of a major brand. Then, it’s a minefield with you in the middle of it surrounded by a thousand critical eyes (your followers), plus your own PR, publicity and marketing people.

And that’s not the worst part.

If and when you post something inaccurate or offensive, there’s a range of news websites with little else to do but report on the latest twitter-gaffe. (That kind of thing is, unsurprisingly, a click magnet.)

I spend time writing and rewriting tweets. I regularly schedule them to time them best for maximum exposure. When I have second thoughts I often delete them before sending. If they include sensitive info or facts that someone may not want revealed, I first check them off with my manager. And I also confirm with story producers the best way to word them to get the message right.

I don’t know if the kid tweeting for Qantas is Gen-Y or the middle-aged marketing manager.

What matters is that a quick SMS could have avoided a poor choice and that would have saved a lot of offence now being attributed to Qantas, not to a faceless producer.

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One response to “Qantas’s Blackface Mis-tweet & the risks of pro-tweeting

  1. I’ve got two lines of thinking here – the first is that these things get blown out of all proportion when a “major brand” ripe for a kicking is the culprit. Secondly, I think it’s the way you respond that matters.

    Years ago I was working at an ad agency when one of our team accidentally sent an email to over 10,000 people telling them that they’d won a prize (value about $30 a pop) so not an insignificant cock-up. Rather than firing out a quick follow up acknowledging the error and offering a very humble apology, a weak-as-piss account director (who didn’t want to admit the mistake to the client) made the agency cough up for a prize for every person – whether they wanted it or not.

    Often an apology is a more effective way of displaying contrition. Falling on your sword us very painful and only you feel it.

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