I’ve never been fired from a job before. I’d like to think I’ve been pretty responsible, for the most part, since I started working at age 15—the exception being the time I accidentally locked myself out of the coffee house I worked at in college and had to call the owner at 6 a.m. to let me back in. Not my best day.
I will pause at this point to knock on my wood desktop cautiously, so as not to break any fingers. As a writer, it helps that my hands remain intact.
While I’m not actually very worried about the security of my employment, it does occur to me occasionally that writing for the web is becoming more and more of a liability.
We all move faster these days, I’d guess, based on the multitude of technological capabilities we have waiting at our manic fingertips. As soon as a story breaks, we media types storm the AP website, stuff the most salient points into our pockets, and run for the door. If we’re not constantly updating throughout the day, every day, we do a disservice to our readers—those who rely on us to track down the most critical and relevant content for their industries.
But much like a machine that’s spinning just a little too fast, the process is subject to a breakdown here and there. Case in point: Our editorial team received an email from our editorial director a few weeks back suggesting (gently, for the most part) that we slow down a little. The boss had noticed several small typos in the preceding weeks and determined we needed a reminder that the devil is in the details.
But when you have a website at your disposal, and the technical know-how to actually put stuff on it, it’s tempting to cut some corners. With our print magazine, editorial goes through several rounds of review before approval, because once in the hands of the printer, there’s no going back. Believe me: having someone point out a mistake that’s immortalized in print forever is no fun. But with the web, it’s easy to think ‘I can always fix it later.’ Words to live and die by. Or lose your job by.
In recent weeks there have been a few Twitter-related snafus—specifically one out of Detroit—that have garnered some attention. Despite making my fair share of mistakes over time, at least I’ve never done anything this bad: Chrysler fired its social media agency (who subsequently fired the employee responsible) when said individual Tweeted the following on Chrysler’s account: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the motor city and yet no one here knows how to [expletive] drive.”
While most of us are smarter than the example above, I think this scenario still raises some interesting points. It’s sometimes easy to fire off a Tweet or post a quick Facebook comment that might not have made it through an editing process. Since there are sometimes fewer checks and balances in the web arena, I’d wager that more mistakes are made. In the case of Chrysler, the employee in question explained that he’d really meant to post this comment to his personal Twitter account. Unfortunately, a few small keystrokes is all it took for this wisecrack to come across the wires as the voice of Chrysler. Ouch.
Ultimately, we do the best we can to portray ourselves and our businesses in the most flattering light, but we need to also be cautious of the immediacy of web marketing and social media. These environments give us a false sense of security since—while you can’t un-mail a magazine—you can always remove an electronic press release, a photo, or a Tweet. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes too late. As quick as we move, damage is done (and spreads) just as quickly. Our words deserve careful consideration when we represent a business or brand, even if it means sweating the small stuff.