I love these tweets. They’re like watching a train wreck. You know it’s coming, you know it’s gonna be bad, but in the end you have to watch. And usually, the damage is as catastrophic as you imagined it would be.
This particular example is one that I relish because it highlights an aspect of social media use that NONE of us have dealt with in the past. There is no precedent for it.
There’s an old saying among press and public information officers (though politicians are usually the ones that bump up against it the most), that goes:
Never argue with a man that buys ink by the barrel.
Basically, if you’ve got beef with someone who has a readership in the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, don’t pick a fight. Why? Because all of those readers will only hear their side of the story, not yours.
But that’s not as true anymore. These days people who buy ink by the barrel tend to have lots of barrels of ink sitting around. People like Greg Sandoval have more than 8,000 followers. And a potential audience (through retweets and the like) of millions. And imagine the day that someone like Dr. Sanjay Gupta (1.5 million followers) decides he’s had enough and burns that bridge? I think at that point, the “don’t argue” bit actually applies to Dr. Gupta and not his employer.
Social media has twisted the calculus of crisis communications all around. I can think of any number of settings where we’d bump into this problem. A mayor deposed. A health care provider vs. the public health community. A sports star vs. his team. A victim vs. the media.
We no longer have that veil of authority anymore, especially in contentious situations. Because the person you’ll be fighting against is already building their following. What are you doing?