How to Survive a Social Media Mistake

social media mistakeWe’ve all done it. We’ve clicked send, submit, update or other online publication button when we shouldn’t have, or didn’t mean to. What happens then?

Social media gives us the opportunity to reach a huge crowd. Unfortunately, when we make a mistake on these platforms it means that a lot of people might see it. If you’ve ever seen an angry grammar mob pounce on a mistake, it’s enough to make you pass on social media altogether.

For online instructors, social media use includes the pressure of a student audience. Being a positive role model in this context means setting a realistic example of a professional educator using these tools. There are ups and downs, benefits and challenges, and multiple options for reacting to and acknowledging a problem.

5 Mistakes You Might Make

My focus here is on errors, omissions, and gaffes. This is different from posting what you meant to post and having people openly disagree with it. Social media criticism is, however, a growing issue and perhaps the topic of a future article. What kinds of social media mistakes have you made? Here are a few to watch out for:

1. Posting from the wrong account: I’m guilty of being logged in to my own personal accounts, others that I use only professionally, and accounts at the same time. This is dangerous and can be even trickier on a mobile device. Be aware of who or where you are as you are typing, and the potential audience for each account. Deleting these errors is possible, but depending on the nature of the error an apology post might also be in order.

2. Spelling and grammar errors: Each platform places a limit on what we can include in a post. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters, for example, often forces our hand – we leave out punctuation and shorten phrases in weird ways to complete our thoughts. Did you use the wrong their, they’re, or there? This kind of mistake happens all the time, just scroll through your newsfeed. How bad was the mistake? Consider deleting and resending a corrected version, or just letting it go. If you are an English professor, however, these kinds of errors may be more of an issue.

3. Bad hashtag: Hashtags make it easier for us to connect with each other via social media and share ideas on specific topics. Adding a class hashtag to tweets or Facebook updates is one way to connect within a course. Social media participation is global and the hashtag you want to use may already be in use by another group in a completely different, and perhaps inappropriate (to you), context. If you want to use a hashtag you haven’t seen before, try a quick search for it before adding to your updates. Deletion and editing options are available. If you feel the need to explain the mistake or apologize for it in some way, a follow-up post might be helpful.

4. Sense of humor didn’t translate: Try as we might to be funny or even a little sarcastic online, it’s hard to convey this kind of thing using only letters, numbers, and maybe an emoticon or two. Some people are better at this than others. Gauge the reaction you are getting to your posts. Did followers get the joke? Was it misinterpreted in some way? There are other ways to share a sense of humor with online students (e.g., live meetings, use of video), which can help you establish presence in the course, encourage student participation, and boost motivation.

5. You were angry. Or maybe you were upset, under a lot of stress, exhausted, or just having a bad day. Now that the smoke has cleared, you regret something you posted in the heat of the moment. Keep in mind that social media updates are more like public speaking than having private conversations. Your tweets, etc., can be quoted and bookmarked by others. Stepping away from your accounts is always a good idea in these situations. You can always weigh in on the topic of discussion at a later time. If it’s too late for that, review your options for deleting and/or posting further explanation.

These mistakes can be embarrassing, but are also often preventable. Slow down and focus your attention on each update you send. Double check what you are doing, think through what you want to post, and acknowledge that mistakes do happen even when we are cautious.

Can you really delete anything online?

Each platform offers a unique set of options for making a correction or deleting something altogether. There is, however, a sort of permanence to everything we post. Deleting something from your account may mean that it is no longer visible, but still stored on a system’s server. If you delay a deletion and the error has already been shared by others (e.g., retweeted) it will still be “out there.”

  • Twitter: You can easily delete a tweet, but it’s important to know that it is not removed from the system immediately. Twitter reminds us that deleted tweets can still be found using Twitter search, although “they will clear with time.”
  • Facebook: You can delete or edit a Facebook comment. Comments that have been edited include notation of this and a visible history of changes. The Facebook Help Community provides advice on retrieving and archiving comments and photos. Once something is deleted the user may not be able to get it back, even though it could still be stored in the Facebook system.
  • LinkedIn: Deletion and editing options vary depending on the item you want to change. You can delete an update shared through your newsfeed, although it may still be listed in email notifications and through other user’s “shares.” You can also delete a comment you’ve made in a LinkedIn Group, and have 15 minutes to edit each comment after you’ve submitted it.

The reality of these networks, and many others like them, is that the feed keeps going. It’s a non-stop flow of information and mistakes get buried quickly. Think about the type of mistake you’ve made and the severity of any possible consequences, when deciding whether or not you need to make edits or take steps to remove it.

Guidelines and Resources

You don’t have to figure everything out as you go. Having a plan for how you’ll use social media, as well as for what you’ll do when a mistake happens, is a good preparation for future use of these tools. Use the following resources to create your own set of ground rules for social media participation as a professional educator, as well as with students in your online courses:

  • Institutional guidelines: I recently searched for documentation from the two schools where I teach as an adjunct. One didn’t provide anything in writing, but the other did have formal guidelines available. I expected the information would be restrictive (which is why I hadn’t looked for it sooner). However, the guidance was general in nature and provided a lot of good reminders, such as “be aware of your association with the university at all times” and “respect your audience.”
  • What are other educators saying? How are they handling their social media mistakes? There’s power in building a professional learning network that includes people whose style and approach you respect. Find a few key accounts to follow and learn from as they manage their participation, balancing caution with the risk of posting their work and opinions in public ways.

Overcoming the fear of making a mistake is part of the process as you gain experience with social media interaction and implementing these tools in the context of higher education. You will also get more comfortable with this kind of public posting with practice. Build your skills in both preventing mistakes and reacting to them when they occur.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog