How Sky Arts turned a fuck up into a problem

We’ve all been there and done it – posted or shared something that we thought better of almost instantly.

And those of us acting as brand account custodians have probably had moments where we’ve nearly posted something destined for our friends to the work stream.

Here’s a little story about one Twitter account that did this, what we can learn from it, and what they then proceeded, which was even more unforgivable.

Around 10.30pm GMT on Tuesday 26 June, Sky Arts issued a tweet on their official timeline.

Sadly, the original Tweet has since been deleted (it was taken down almost instantly), but I’ve managed to find a couple of users who (thankfully for us) retweeted it almost instantly.  Here’s the screengrab (in case the deletion fairy makes a comeback):

This is a selection of retweets of the unfortunate Sky Arts post.

What can we learn from this?

We’re all human and none of us is perfect.

Mistakes happen.

If you make a giant fuck-up, apologise, move on.  People will understand.

Of course, this could have been avoided by one simple step.

Given the time of night, I assume that the tweet was posted from a handheld device, on which two accounts were synced – a personal one and a work one.

For a £multi-billion operation like Sky, I’d have bought a phone onto which only the official work account was synced – and no other could be used on pain of death.

Spend £100 on a phone and a data plan, and lock that out for work use only.  Then if the Twitter handler still manages to post from the wrong device, let alone the wrong account, you know you’ve got a real problem…

So we accept the fuck-up.  No problem there.  But it’s the next bit which beggers belief…

This afternoon, I figured that the above would make a pretty nifty case study for fuck-up-retrieval and an opportunity for me to suggest a simple work-around solution.

But I couldn’t find the original tweet.  Not too much of an issue, after all, Sky Arts wouldn’t want that on their timeline.

So I asked my followers if they happened to have a screengrab that I could use.  

This is what happened next.

You’ll notice that I started off the stream mentioning that the apologies (to users spotting and complaining about the fuck-up) had been deleted.

If you don’t believe me, see this short exchange – there’s obviously something missing:

(OK, so I got the user handle wrong for the guy who’d RT’d the fuck-up.  In my defence, I was being driven home in an open-top car, so there. I can’t be expected to get everything right…)

There are two facets here which make the fuck-up into a problem.

1) Whoever was handling the stream today got it wrong.

You’ll note the “That’s because it never happened!” (although we must give them credit for speed of reply)

It did happen.  So either today’s person didn’t know or they were playing dumb.

This is an issue on two fronts – firstly, whoever made the original fuck-up should have left a note so that today’s handlers wouldn’t get caught out.  Secondly, if they were just playing dumb, this isn’t a good idea on the net when there are millions of neurons of memory ready and waiting to punish this kind of customer disrespect.

The pay off of “We were only joking. Thought we’d get away with a human error for a second there 🙂 ” actually tells me that whoever was sitting on the desk knew full well what had gone on, and were trying to pull the wool over my eyes.

I don’t appreciate that.

2) All of the apologies have been deleted – bad move.

Delete the original tweet by all means – removal of an errant ‘fuck’ isn’t going to upset that many people.

In fact, most people seemed to take it in good part and as a bit of a joke.

But to cleanse the timeline of a series of apologies (which, without the original tweet might not make huge contextual sense) is to deny that the event ever happened.

It’s to expunge the record, to change history. Literally.

And that’s deeply dishonest.

(But thankfully for you, there are geeks out there, like me, who manage to save this stuff for posterity)

One of these things is bad enough.  Both are pretty much unforgivable.

The take-away for all social media brandsters is this.

Be prepared to make mistakes.  We all will at some point.

If you make a mistake, fix it honestly.

But don’t try to change history.

Because that’s dishonest, inauthentic and disrespectful to your followers.

It takes a brave person or brand to stand up and admit that they got it wrong.

All it takes is a coward to expunge history and change the timeline.

It’s your social media stream, you choose what you want to be….

At the time of writing, Sky Arts haven’t replied to my last question via Twitter.  When they do, I’ll update this post.

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.


3 thoughts on “How Sky Arts turned a fuck up into a problem

  1. Neil,

    Can’t argue with “fan” but your points are well made. The much-publicized American Red Cross example and the recent Smart Car example shows that admitting your mistakes (or humanity) goes a long way to gain credibility and appreciation from your Followers.

    We all detest CM’s who, encumbered by watertight rigid draconian Social Media policies, post like mindless bots. Would you befriend someone who acted more like Michael Fassbender in Prometheus than a real person.

    The Smart Car community management case is written up below. I thought it inspired.


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