I’ll be blunt: I am a football fanatic, having spent most of my weekends over the past few months glued to a TV or stadium seat. I was jumping up and down in front of my TV like a small furry dog Sunday night when the Seattle Seahawks rallied to defeat the Green Bay Packers in overtime to earn their spot in Super Bowl XLIX.
Let’s fast forward to the following day: Monday, January 19th; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This holiday inspires individuals and organizations across the country to turn to social media to show support for racial equality. That includes the Seahawks. Fresh off a win and perhaps eager to simultaneously rally their fans to support the legacy of Dr. King, they sent a tweet that presented a confusing message.
Accompanied by an emotional image of quarterback Russell Wilson, King's quote read “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” -- the team’s account simply tweeted, “We shall overcome.”
The Seahawks tweet sparked backlash from twitter users everywhere (see below). Fans and twitter users were infuriated and embarrassed by the Seahawks comparison between football and the civil rights movement.
In a communications world, it is vital to deliver the correct message. Once a message is public, the only way to recover from a miscommunication is an apology. While an apology goes a long way, the Seahawks have successfully created many more Patriots fans, their Super Bowl opponent, than before. I occasionally find myself in similar situations while communicating over text, twitter or social media, and have developed a few quick steps to help ensure my message is received clearly.
If the subject is sensitive … ask someone else! I often find myself asking not one or two but THREE people, with different perspectives and backgrounds, what my words mean to them. If one person shows hesitation, I listen to their concerns and adapt my message.
If you are using a picture … explain yourself further to describe how you, or your organization, feel about the photo. The Seahawks might have added a line or two explaining how the quote inspired millions in 1965 when Dr. King shared it, and it continues to inspire people today – including the Seattle Seahawks.
If there is ever doubt … rewrite the message. If you (or your editors) see a gap in your message that could lead to a misunderstanding or misperception, others may also. Remember – how your audience perceives your writing is always more important than how you intend for them to perceive it.
So, save yourself from having to apologize and delete tweets, or worse–taking a black eye and damaging your brand–and consider all audiences who will be receiving your message before pressing “Post” or “Tweet.”
The Seahawks social media team quickly deleted the tweet and issued an apology an hour after the initial post.
Leslie Raney is an Assistant Account Executive at Lovell Communiations. You can view more of Leslie's blogs here. Connect with Leslie at email@example.com or @lesliedr.
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