3 PR lessons from Twitter’s response to workplace diversity

The engineering VP apologized for the site’s handling of diversity issues and shared improvement goals. Here’s what communicators can glean from his actions.

Elton John warned us that sorry seems to be the hardest word, but it wasn’t a struggle for Twitter’s Alex Roetter when he responded to a former employee who questioned the microsite’s commitment to workplace diversity.

“The comments attributed to me aren’t an accurate or complete facsimile, but they conveyed a meaning that was very far from what I intended, which means I did a poor job communicating … I am truly sorry,” wrote Roetter, Twitter’s vice president of engineering, on Medium.

Leslie Miley, who was Twitter’s only black engineer before leaving the company in October, published a post on Medium where he questioned Twitter’s commitment to diversity. Although he didn’t name Roetter in the post, he refers to him.

“With my departure, Twitter no longer has any managers, directors, or VP’s of color in engineering or product management,” wrote Miley, who turned down a severance package so he could speak freely about the company’s workplace diversity issues.

Here, PR pros shared what Roetter got right in his response—as well as areas where he could have improved:

1. Pick the right outlet for the apology.

It was wise of Roetter to go to Medium to post, says Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications in New Jersey.

“You fight social media fire with social media water,” Breakenridge says. “It started there, so finish it there.”

2. Follow recommended best practices.

Roetter’s response was in line with common recommendations that organizations respond to complaints in a timely fashion, acknowledge the problem and let the public know there is a plan to address the issue, says Carrie Morgan, a digital public relations consultant and author who owns Rock the Status Quo in Arizona.

3. Share specific goals for improvement.

Publicly stating an action plan and outlining the goal was a step toward accountability, says Sabrina N. Browne, a freelance publicist and graduate student at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Those who follow Twitter’s next steps can use the goals to measure the company’s success at improving its diversity, Browne says.

“The real test comes later when we can see if this event changed Twitter for the better,” says Lou Hoffman, CEO of Hoffman Agency in California.

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Room for improvement

Although several PR pros say that Roetter’s overall message was strong, they agree he could have done better with this part of his statement:

I want Twitter to be a place where all employees feel comfortable raising questions about diversity. That hasn’t always been the case, which is unacceptable. The comments attributed to me aren’t an accurate or complete facsimile, but they conveyed a meaning that was very far from what I intended, which means I did a poor job communicating. That resulted in unnecessary pain and confusion, for which I am truly sorry. We all want the same results — stronger representation of underrepresented minorities at all levels within Twitter.

Rather than apologize and let his community be Twitter’s supporters and champions, Roetter appeared defensive by stating that some of Miley’s statements about him were inaccurate.

“I like that he said he did a poor job communicating,” Breakenridge says. “But it wasn’t necessary to say Miley’s article misrepresents him. Just say you’re sorry and take the opportunity to act.”

Roetter also could have put a more active voice to part of that comment, Browne says.

Rather than say “I want Twitter to be a place,” Browne says replacing “want” with “need” would have strengthened the message.

Twitter isn’t alone in the diversity issue, Breakenridge says, adding, “There’s clearly an industry issue.”

“I am a fan of Twitter,” she says. “I realize a lot of tech companies are facing this. I think it takes a giant in the industry to do something. This is a good opportunity to move forward and do the right thing.”

What do you think of Roetter’s response, PR Daily readers? Do you think it instills confidence that Twitter is on track to create a more diverse workplace?

(Image via)

Topics: PR


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