by Sarah Shea, editor
Nearly every conversation about public relations ethics comes back to one crucial idea. For insider trading scandals—honesty is crucial. For crisis communications—honesty is crucial. And for reputation management? Honesty.
The Penn State scandal came with several opportunities for honesty in communication. While the university itself arguably took a little too long to disseminate information, the entire crisis presented opportunities for PR.
In situations like this, social media often rears its head. Reactions to Joe Paterno’s dismissal went viral. Avid tweeters quickly tweeted their responses when the news broke.
For the average user, hastily typed tweets are inconsequential and soon forgotten. But for celebrities, a single thoughtless tweet can spur harsh commentary from the cyber world.
Just minutes after Paterno’s firing was announced on Nov. 9, Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), tweeted, “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.”
Clearly, Kutcher hadn’t gotten the full story explaining why Paterno was fired. The tweet, which has since been deleted, immediately erupted when it showed up on the timelines of more than 8.2 million of Kutcher’s followers.
His Twitter handle, aplusk, was completely managed by the actor himself at the time. I was astounded by Kutcher’s response to his follwers’ outrage. He was bombarded by a multitude of hateful replies, including:
“Who is more ignorant? @Aplusk, or the EIGHT MILLION idiots who follow him?”
“@aplusk with 8 million followers, you MAY want to reserve your opinions until you know the whole story.”
And how did Kutcher respond? He replied, tweeted and retweeted nearly immediately. He did the honest thing — admitted fault. Even for the harshest of tweets, Kutcher replied “agreed” and “had no idea.”
He followed up and fully exposed his blunder, tweeting, “Heard Joe was fired, fully recant previous tweet! Didn’t have full story. #admitwhenYoumakemistakes.”
Even his brutal honesty couldn’t undo the crisis. So Kutcher moved forward. In a Nov. 10 blog post, he wrote a detailed account of his side of the story.
The actor said, “I quickly retracted and deleted my previous post; however, that didn’t seem enough to satisfy people’s outrage at my misinformed post. I am truly sorry. And moreover [I] am going to take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Through this post, Kutcher formally announced that his production company, Katalyst Media, would now manage his account.
Though Kutcher’s response has been widely criticized, I’d argue for him — and not just because he’s my middle school heartthrob.
I’d say most humans can relate to the pain of speaking before they think. Whether it comes out in a brash remark, a misinformed opinion or a tweet at large, most of us have experienced some sort of regret over a few cursory words.
For me, Kutcher’s Twitter blunder seems honest. It seems human.
Furthermore, the ability to admit mistakes gives even one of the most followed faces of Twitter a friendly touch.