Last saturday (26 Feb 2017), we mistakenly tweeted and posted on Facebook a article about the impact of terror attacks on Tourism in Paris. This tweet/post had a link that didn’t come from usual news sources. It came from Breitbart, the notorious far-right American news, opinion and commentary website that was founded in 2008. This news channel is known for notoriously offering provocative and deliberately outrageous commentary that is separate from its news coverage but also written by far-right bloggers and journalists.
Well, to make it short, a far right news site that preaches the complete opposite of the values Expats Paris Stands for.
Expats Paris has become one of the leading expatriate communities in Paris thanks to its humanists, cultural and social values. Our community is built on values of tolerance and togetherness.
By sharing this Breitbart’s article, we sounded like we were validating their message and endorsing their extremist ideas of fear and hatred.
So, how did this come to happen? What was going on when these posts went live? What was our reaction? What did we learn from this experience?
Let me break this down into four key points:
1. We were threatened by some followers to unfollow and/or Dislike our Facebook page.
A screenshot of a follower’s tweet.
At Expats Paris, we totally believe in social responsibility. We’re fully aware of the fact that, as an entity, we have an obligation to act for the benefit of the Parisian expats community and the society at large. We avoid engaging in socially harmful behaviors or performing activities that directly or indirectly harm social cohesion.
By sharing something that comes from a news channel that doesn’t share these values, we betrayed our members and followers that share values of peace, love and freedom. No wonder some followers (like in the above-shown screenshot) strongly reacted by threatening to stop following us. And they’re totally right. The last thing you want to be associated with is a community that preaches hatred. This is a huge disappointment and we’d like to send our apologies to anyone that felt offended. The second action we took was to delete that post and tweet.
2. We deleted that post a few hours later.
I’m not sure this was the right thing to do but we basically did it to avoid more debate around this issue since we know our values, we stand by them and trying to fix the issue by explaining the reasons why it happened in the first place, may not necessarily be the right strategy.
We know that nothing we put up on Social Media ever goes away on its own.
Our profiles on different platforms have photos and status updates in them from years ago that we don't even remember posting.
While we know that this specific post might de-value our business, we also know that it can put us at risk. We can bet that potential banks or business angels might check us out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr before giving us money.
Staunch believers of transparency, we're aware of this.
We know that we have nothing to hide and since anyone can get any information about anyone or anything in this age of technology, there’s no need to hide anything.
Transparency is the way to go. We don’t have another choice.
So why did we deleted that post?
We acknowledged our mistakes because we believe that perfection is not an easily reachable thing. We’ve been learning lately that blame, denial and self-pity can all be counterproductive to acknowledgment.
When this happened we analyzed our mistakes and realized that there can’t be any excuses from these.
Brainstorming after this error helped us identify key aspects of our failed action and this has created a great opportunity for acknowledgment and learning how careful we need to be about any action we’re involved in.
3. A client reached out quickly.
Just back from Istanbul where I ran events, going through campaigns, I just came across the below on Facebook...
22 hrs ·
Paris Tourism Falls 1.5 Million in 2016 after Terror Fears http://buff.ly/2ljSsYcby @NickJHallett via @BreitbartNews
I must concede I am very surprised to see this shared on Expat Paris, where one knows the political views of Breibart....and on the business side, it may really be bad for your network. ...
This was an email a friend (and client) sent me. I think she did it from her smartphone as soon as she landed from her business trip in Turkey.
Knowing Expats Paris and the values we stand for, she couldn’t believe this was coming from our Facebook Page and Twitter account.
Being a business-minded, brand image and communication specialist, she sensed something weird was going on. And indeed there was something totally bad.
I have to thank her for letting me know. I was away in Chantilly visiting a friend and didn’t take a look at our social media feeds for two full days (Saturday and Sunday).
Right after I got her email, I reached out to our community manager and we talked about it, trying to find out how this happened and what we had to do about it.
As my friend said, this is dangerous for our brand image.
She reminded me how such foolish acts can ruin - in a nano-second- everything we’ve been building for years. She’s the one that actually advised that we tell exactly what happened.
That’s what the next point is all about.
What happened was basically an almost-total trust in social media automation tools.
4. Never Ever Trust Automation tools 100%.
Image courtesy of edutopia
Expats Paris marketing strategy is founded on 5 main pillars: Social Media, Content, Email, Events and Sponsored Ads. Being a small team, we rely a lot on automation to, both create and analyze our content, but also run the business.
We use these apps to interconnect one onto another for maximum performance. Since almost every weekend we’re off, we usually rely on automation. And that’s what happened when Breitbart’s post was shared on our platforms.
This is how it happened: We usually connect Bufferti.me: an extension that searches for the most shared posts on social media - at times from Buzzsumo- automatically schedules them and posts/publishes them - via Buffer - at the at the right moment.
Powerful, isn’t it?
I know, we’ve been using this automation recipe for many years except that, this time, it’s the post about “Paris Travel” (as a keyword we usually use for Saturday and Sunday) that got most engagement this weekend but it's the one we’d never share if we had time to schedule it manually.
I know, it’s common nowadays to hear stories of Social media account hacking practices. This seems to be like a general online technical issue that everyone with a presence on social media has to face at some point or another.
However, ordinary people like me or a small business like Expats Paris are hardly targeted by hackers on Social Media because - let’s be honest - there really is nothing to see - or to say it differently - we have little or nothing to lose.
Our website was hacked in 2016 and we wrote about it. We know what hacking is and the harm it can cause to a small business.
If I said that our Twitter and Facebook accounts were hacked to post a Breitbart’s link, that’d be a huge lie and wouldn’t help in any way.
The mistake we made here was to trust automation tools 100% to post (on our behalf) about twenty posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter for two full days without any error. We basically let the machines do our work for two full days without checking what was going on!
While we’re enthusiastic about automation, robotics and every other innovative tool that help humans to outperform, this has taught us a lesson: At this age, only Humans can think rationally because they know and understand the values they stand for.
5. Lesson learned.
Like our above-mentioned members and followers, very few people will wonder why, all of a sudden, why your accounts start sharing something different from the values you’ve always promoted. Few of them will want to understand the reasons behind such errors. Many will jump on to conclusions and call you names because - and they might be right - they feel betrayed or don’t just want to associate with any brand that spreads hatred.
While social media accounts get hacked, smartphones or passwords get stolen (not in our case here - again, we use a password manager for that), over-using automation tools may cause a brand’s human identity loss.
This experience has taught us how important it is to be extremely careful about the posts we share, the tools we use, values we stand for and align with, avoid any argument, but accept an error or mistake whenever there’s one.
This post is about the error we made over the weekend. We apologize to our members, followers and any person that got offended.
We promise to work hard and improve so that such mistakes don’t happen again.
Thank you for reading.