7 lessons from the Kansas City Chiefs’ social media blunder

The Chiefs’ community manager told an active Twitter fan to “get a clue,” then blocked him. The gaffe offers important crisis tips to remember.

What happened with Travis Wright and the Kansas City Chiefs on Twitter was nothing less than a classic example of a brand’s social media misstep.

As these things do, the story quickly went viral. While I abhor “lessons from” posts, as I watched the story unfold and saw the conversation that ensued, there was no way around it. I had to write one.

Like many fans in Kansas City, Travis Wright is frustrated that the Chiefs stink, and the management doesn’t seem to care about anything other than raising ticket prices.

The short version of the story is that Wright tweeted the Chiefs and, as is the case with so many fan rants, he wasn’t nice.

His frustration is that for the fourth year in a row, the Chiefs are at the bottom of salary-cap spending. He contends Clark Hunt, the Chiefs’ owner, is hoarding salary-cap dollars.

Here’s the tweet:

Here’s what I know about sports: Every fan has an opinion about how things should be done and they share those opinions vociferously. Thus, when you’re a sports team, dealing with fans and their opinions is an integral part of your corporate communications strategy.

Wright’s exchange with the Chiefs’ Twitter account apparently annoyed the community manager so much that he or she sent him a snotty direct message:

Then, to make matters worse, the community manager blocked Wright. As in “I’ll show you, loudmouth.”

This was kind of a harsh move for a brand that should be accustomed to fan rants.

That brings us to the lessons:

1. Think before you act.

Is sending a snotty direct message and blocking a follower really necessary? More important, is it the right step?

It’s not possible to say “no” loudly enough here. And in this instance, being snotty and downright rude to an avid fan, and then blocking him is a bad move.

What’s even worse is the Chiefs did all this to an active Twitter user with more than 124,000 followers. What was the community manager thinking?

2. Know who you’re messing with.

For those who thought Wright’s tweet and behavior were uncalled for, let me remind you that we’re talking about sports fans. In my experience, sports fans are rabid, passionate, prone to unruliness, and often not afraid to toss in one or two curse words.

In this case, Wright’s Twitter bio claims he’s prone to the occasional sport and political rant. It’s not as if who he is, what he does for a living (expert in social media engagement and strategy), and the fact that he’s opinionated are any secret. He puts it right out there:

3. Recognize the power of influencers.

If you’re going to do something gutsy as part of your crisis management tactics, it’s best if you understand the power and reach of whomever you engage with. That’s a cardinal rule; one that often gets brands into trouble.

Wright was not only surprised the Chiefs blocked him, but angry. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who manages a brand’s social media community that some of us know our way around the Internet.

When you irritate, insult or treat a denizen of the Web in a way that doesn’t make sense, we do what we do best: write about it. We write blog posts, record video, save screen captures (because we know you might want to try to hide later), and share our thoughts on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and anywhere else we hang out.

We’re not being mean, it’s what we do. We dissect situations and try to learn from them so we can avoid similar mistakes for our clients.

Wright’s subsequent post on Reddit added fuel to the social media fire already burning. It’s no surprise that before the day was over, several media outlets contacted him wanting to hear the story and share it with their audiences.

4. Act human, own up to mistakes, and move on.

The good thing about things like this is that whether you’re a large brand like the Chiefs or a small one, it’s pretty easy to fix your boneheaded move. The secret is amazingly simple: Just act like a human.

Step up, admit what you did was a mistake, and own it. Apologize to the parties involved and move on. Believe it or not, our collective attention span (and the attention span of your customers) is typically so short that in many instances a mistake like this one is not really that big of a deal.

This is a tremendously difficult concept for so many brands to understand.

Whether it’s Kenneth Cole’s ill-timed tweet about Cairo or the person who manages the Chrysler Twitter account inadvertently dropping the f-bomb, stuff happens. That’s never going to change.

5. Never forget what not to do.

There is never any justification for treating a customer or fan—rabid or not—with disrespect. If someone rants or baits you, recognize that. Before you respond, step back, think, ask for advice, review your policy, and decide the best course of action before you act.

In many instances, that best course of action is to leave the comment alone. In other instances, a response like “We’re sorry you’re unhappy,” “Let’s agree to disagree on this one,” or “We don’t agree, but we do respect your opinion” is a way to try to diffuse the situation.

What shouldn’t you do? That’s the easy part. Don’t get snotty. Don’t get swept away by passion and block someone. Do your homework and understand who you’re talking to and the damage that can result due to the person’s influence within a certain community.

Act with respect at all times. When you mess up, don’t make excuses. As my friend Vince Vaughan succinctly put it, “That’s what children do, not adults.”

The Chiefs eventually apologized to Wright after everything went viral. But he didn’t see the apology because they blocked him. Oops.

6. Everything matters, and a plan is imperative.

The lesson here is that everything you do as a social media community manager, PR professional, agency spokesperson, or representative reflects on your client.

It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day. What matters is that you always protect the image and reputation of your client.

The takeaway for brands is to always have a plan in place for when stuff hits the fan. A social media crisis plan is a must. It should include specifics on how and/or when to reply to certain posts, and specific content for your team to use.

7. Training should never stop.

The other important thing, as evidenced here and elsewhere, is to train your people.

If someone just had a bad day, it happens. But if you have a bad day and community management is part of your job, either get over it or get someone else to step in until you do. It’s that simple.

As Kate Ottavio, one of my super smart PR friends says, “You don’t put your client or your company in danger of being a social media case study.”

This isn’t the kind of thing you can tell your team once and expect them to know. Talk about this in meetings and have training sessions with mock crisis scenarios to teach them how to deliver great customer service online, even with a contentious fan or customer.

Those are the lessons I think are worth talking about as far as what shall forever be known as the day the Chiefs told Travis Wright to get a clue, then wished they hadn’t.

What do you think?

Shelly Kramer is the CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing. A version of this article first appeared on her blog.

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