Hard lessons in social media
I love social media.
I'm addicted to Twitter, Facebook and finding ways to disseminate useful information to people who trust The News-Gazette. I love the rush of connecting with people through technology and using those connections to build relationships. Social media is powerful, and I believe it's an important channel in journalism.
Today, though, I had a brush with just how dangerous social media can be. I got a media alert from someone who claimed to be representing Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches (and whom I later found out, handles some communications for Jimmy John's).
A media alert is just what it sounds like: a way of alerting the media of an upcoming event. The media alert I received looked legitimate and announced an impending giveaway at local shops. (Note: the giveaway isn't happening.) You can see a screenshot of that e-mail below.
I tweeted about the event soon after I received the e-mail, knowing my and The News-Gazette's followers would be interested.
And people were. I sent out the tweet through The News-Gazette's account, and people started retweeting us. It's what I love about social media: news spreads fast.
But when I got a message from the Jimmy John's twitter account saying the giveaway was just a rumor, I felt sick to my stomach. I thought I'd been duped.
I've since confirmed that the e-mail wasn't a sham; it's just that the date was wrong. The Jimmy John's social media people (whoever they are - they didn't sign their e-mails personally) assured me the mix-up was on the corporate side, and I shouldn't feel bad.
But I did - and still do, to some extent. I know about the power of social media and how important it is to get your facts straight before sending them out into cyberspace. I've been quoted by a national publication about being careful with Twitter because misinformation "can go viral very quickly." I feel like The News-Gazette's social media presence is so important because people trust us to get the facts straight.
This particular snafu wasn't my fault - I got an incorrect media alert and acted on it. Once I got wind that my information was incorrect, I took down all tweets and Facebook posts about it and let people know it wasn't true. I added a correction to our Web site. I tweeted about how terrible I felt and did my best to be as transparent as possible about the mix-up. Writing about it here is a part of that.
However, there's a very important lesson to be learned. And if you already knew it, let me reinforce it for you. If you pride yourself on providing accurate information, double- or triple-check your facts before you post them. Because when you start providing incorrect and inaccurate information, you lose credibility.