How to Avoid Twitter's Pitfalls (For Political Types)


Twitter has been abuzz in the capital this week thanks to not one but two major snafus. One revealed racist tweets by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's deputy finance director, and then there was that embarrassing typo by the Republican National Committee.

Where's Olivia Pope when you need her?

Walker's re-election campaign gave Taylor Palmisano the ax this week after several controversial tweets the aide had written years ago were published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In one tweet, Palmisano complains about a custodian.

"I will choke that illegal mex cleaning in the library. Stop banging (expletive) chairs around and turn off your Walkman," one tweet reads.

Walker spokesman Jonathan Wetzel announced Palmisano's firing in a release statement, saying, "Both the governor, and the campaign, condemn these insulting remarks which do not reflect our views in any way."

Palmisano has since shut down her Twitter account.

The RNC started one of the week's most popular hashtags this week, although that probably wasn't their intention when they tweeted in remembrance of the day Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to sit in the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

They quickly corrected themselves…

…but started a firestorm of sarcastic tweets under the hashtag #RacismEndedWhen:

Politicians have hardly needed help in the embarrassing tweet department (see: Anthony Weiner), but what happens when it's their staff that's causing the problems?

Just last year, a spokesman for Republican Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador was fired after accidentally tweeting from Labrador's account during the Super Bowl.

"Me likely Broke Girls," Phil Hardy, who had been working for Labrador since 2010, wrote in response to an ad for the CBS comedy "2 Broke Girls," featuring the show's two female stars pole dancing.

Mark Shaw, a sought-after author and consultant in the U.K. who is popularly known as "Mr. Twitter," told ABC News that giving the employee the boot in certain situations doesn't necessarily need to be the go-to move. "Say sorry and people will usually forgive you," he suggested.

Shaw cited the Red Cross' response to one employee's embarrassing account mix-up as a prime example. In 2011 an employee accidentally tweeted from the organization's official account about #gettingslizzard, and in response the Red Cross apologized via a funny tweet and turned the whole thing into a fundraising opportunity.

"We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys."

Shaw says that "if the tweet was racist, homophobic, then more action may need to be taken against the employee," but notes that educating one's staff on Twitter etiquette before they get their hands on the keyboard is, well, key.

"That is where the guidance, and guidelines come into play," Shaw says, "Making it clear from the outset what is considered O.K. and what is not."

And always remember, think before you tweet.