‘Fifty Shades’ author E.L. James gets blasted in Twitter chat

The author’s foray into an exchange of tweets went absolutely horrendously. Here’s how you can avoid getting tied up in a similar predicament.

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A few years ago, my good friend Abbie Fink suggested I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

We were in New Orleans for Counselors Academy, and everyone was reading it at the same time. When I finished, I announced I needed to bleach my eyeballs—not because of the “erotica,” but because the writing was so bad.

So. Bad.

We had a good laugh about the book and commiserated on how bad (SO BAD) the writing was. As communicators, we pride ourselves as good—if not great—writers and the writing was particularly offensive.

To this day, when anyone asks whether I’ve read it, I always say the writing was so bad, it made me want to bleach my eyeballs.

I’m not in the minority among this. All you have to do is Google, “Fifty Shades of Grey awful writing” and you’ll find pages and pages of articles written about just how terrible it is.

That’s why, when Laura Petrolino sent me a Buzzfeed article and I later saw the same thing on Monina Wagner’s wall, I just shook my head.

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What could possibly go wrong?

It seems E.L. James, the author of this horribly written book, participated in a Twitter chat—and the Internet took her to task.

This, of course, isn’t James’ fault. It’s that of her book publicist.

When you set out to do something like this for a client or team member, you must think through everything that could go wrong.
In this case, her publicist should have come back and said, “Here are all the things that could go wrong”:

  • There are many people who think the writing—particularly in the first book—is really bad and will have fun with it on Twitter.
  • You could be accused of being misogynistic because of the topic of the trilogy.
  • There are many people who think the book promotes abuse and sexual harassment, and that could become an issue during the chat.
  • Though it’s fairly well known that this series started out as fan fiction, based on “Twilight,” you could be accused of stalking its author, Stephenie Meyer.
  • There may be negative tweets overall about its success, despite the subject matter.

If it were me, I’d look at this list and decide the reward did not outweigh the risk—and not do it.

Either her publicist didn’t do this work, or the work was done and James decided to go ahead with it anyway.

Either way, what ensued was not good.

Then her publicist got the wrath of the Internet:

The Twitter chat gone wrong

It might seem like a Twitter chat is harmless. I mean, it’s a Twitter chat. What could possibly go wrong?

Hers is a great example of exactly what can go wrong.

Other examples include:

Google “Twitter chat gone wrong” and you can find lots of examples of what you can expect if you don’t plan your Twitter chat.

It’s our job to stop, think and plan—every time.

Before every Twitter chat

If your boss, client, executive or colleague wants to do a Twitter chat, always think, “STP.” (I came up with that on my own, but it works. STP could also mean “stop,” which reminds you to stop, think and plan.)

Here is the very least that you should do for every Twitter chat. It won’t take you very long, and it will save you a lot of pain in the end:

  1. Go to Google, and try every variation of what people think about the company, brand, or executives. Try, “I hate [company],” “I hate [brand],” “I hate [person].”
  2. Create a list of every possible negative outcome, as I did above in the E. L. James example. Think through everything. Ask your friends—those who are not in the business—what they think. Review market research or any surveys you’ve done.
  3. Go through every negative outcome and provide a numerical assessment: Assign a 3 for it could be really bad, 2 for it could be moderately bad, and 1 for it probably won’t be a blip.
  4. Add up the numbers and divide by the number of outcomes you have listed. For instance, I would put a 3 on the first four of the “Fifty Shades” list above and 2 on the last one. So the total is 14. I divide that by 5 and get 2.8. That is close enough to 3 (it could be really bad) that I would advise James against doing the chat. (It is math, but it’s simple addition and division. You can do it.)

If you make the recommendation and the Twitter chat still goes forward, you will have done your job and can’t be blamed. (You’ll have the added benefit of being able to say, “I told you so,” which is sometimes just as rewarding.)

A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.


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