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Stop Blaming the Intern for Social Media Gaffes

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It happened again. While everyone was out enjoying their Fourth of July holiday, an intern for American Apparel used a photo of the Challenger space shuttle explosion on its Tumblr page, "mistaking the image for a fireworks display." In posts across social media, American Apparel pointed to the intern's age (born after the Challenger tragedy) and apologized for its insensitivity.

Ya think?

The Texas Governor's race has been nasty from the beginning, but one of the uglier moments came in late May when an intern for Republican Greg Abbott's campaign published a tweet that seemed to liken Democratic nominee Wendy Davis to Adolf Hitler. It was convenient to blame the intern and disassociate the campaign from the comments. But pointing a finger at the intern for a nasty post during a campaign where respect and decorum had long gone out the window was laughable.

In the age of new media, messages pushed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. have become more than commonplace -- they are a necessity for competitive communications offices. These are channels from which many of us get our news and break our news. Posts are no longer harmless -- they impact negotiations, affect the markets and cost people their jobs.

A webpage can be edited and statements can be revised. But social media posts seemingly live forever. A number of organizations pride themselves on catching posts before they are removed, and the damage done in a 140 character message can take significantly longer to fix than it did to draft.

At the same time, busy press offices do not have time to vet every single post. Particularly with breaking news and in times of crisis (organizational, personal or situational), posts must be updated in real-time to stay relevant.

But social posts gone wrong create self-inflicted wounds.

In deciding whether or not to dip an organization's figurative toes in the water of social media, staff should set reasonable expectations about the organizational risks involved and, most importantly, establish protocols for who, when and how social media posts are published. This should include who drafts and approves posts, and setting clear rules on deletions (many organizations refuse to delete posts and will only issue corrections or updates).

A two-person editing system is a good idea if you have sufficient personnel. It means that a second set of eyes is looking for errors, making necessary edits, looking for sarcasm that goes over the top and for any images that may be offensive.

Organizations and principals who hide behind interns or staff for social media gaffes are shirking their own responsibility for maintaining and cultivating their brand. While many officials have staff post from their account, they cannot distance themselves from the words posted in their name. Staff opinions become a principal's opinion, whether they like it or not.

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