When a PR executive planned a trip to Africa she posted a tweet before she got on the flight. By the time she landed she had become a case study in crisis communications.
by Dan Slee
It's 5am in the UK on the last Saturday before Christmas and in an hour a PR executive is about to switch her phone back on after a flight from the US to Africa.
What will go through her mind is anyone's guess when she realises a tweet sent before she boarded has gone viral.
Justine posted: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"
Justine is senior director for corporate communications at IAC. She has been for the past six months. Her LinkedIn profile also posted to Twitter tells us this. IAC is an internet company which deals with 50 brands across 40 companies. Google tells us this.
IAC chairman Barry Diller told Hollywood Reporter that the comments that:
"This is an outrageous, offensive comment that does not reflect the views and values of IAC. Unfortunately, the employee in question is unreachable on an international flight, but this is a very serious matter, and we are taking appropriate action."
But this was too late to stop the backlash from Twitter. The hashtag #hasjustinelandedyet was trending and the horse had well and truly bolted.
As Justine flew on towards her destination the storm clouds gathered on Twitter.
Waiting for Justine Sacco to land is like watching a spider close in on a fly. Compelling & horrifying the righteous fury of Twitter & media— Stefan Simanowitz (@StefSimanowitz) December 21, 2013
As funny as this #JustineSacco fiasco is, it's sad to see people spamming her instagram and twitter telling her to kill herself.— Breanna Hughes (@unbrelievable) December 21, 2013
Of course, when she landed Justine deleted her tweet and her entire account. Did that make things go away? Did it heck.
Topsy reckoned there were 62,000 tweets in a 10 hour period on the #hasjustinelanded hashtag.
There was the outrage, there was the appeals to go easy, there was the celebrity tweet, there was a fake account pretending to be Justine and then fessing up, there was the registering of http://justinesacco.com/ and the re-directing to an Aid for Africa aid site, there was the case study blog post - including this one - and there was the op ed think piece.
There was also the meme.
So, what does this tell you?
1. The social media policy that can be summed up: 'don't make your boss look stupid' is thr right one. It may stop some people. It won't stop them all.
2. The line on a Twitter bio that reads 'my views only' won't wash.
3. A Twitter lynch mob in full effect can be both funny, witty, scary... but at the end of the day a lynch mob is a lynch mob.
4. If you do something stoopid apologise. Quickly.
5. Even people who cite crisis communications as a skill set on LinkedIn can get things very badly wrong.
6. The internet works far faster than one person can.
7. If this is your employee, you need to act decisively but within your own organisation's HR guidelines.
8. It doesn't matter who you are. If you say something stupid you'll be found out.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.