We hear a lot these days from social media gurus about the benefits of Twitter accounts for financial advisors (see Gil Weinreich’s typically well-reported Aug. 12 story “Why Advisors Should Tweet About That Kayaking Trip” on ThinkAdvisor). I realize that I’m the old fogey in the crowd, but it seems strange to me that aside from the occasional piece on regulatory crackdowns, we rarely hear much about the downside of tweeting: those risk/reward tradeoffs with which advisors are so familiar.
Tweeting, after all, has the two-edged quality of being both spontaneous and a permanent communication that, thanks to re-tweeting, can “go viral” to a staggering number of readers, in a very short time—which, in today’s “Gotcha!” media world is far more likely to happen with an advisors’ gaffe than to his or her brilliant advice.
To get a handle on the potential exposure that tweeting advisors face, I ran a few Google searches on topics such as famous tweets, infamous tweets, controversial tweets, Twitter disasters, and Twitter fails (I’m not a total Neanderthal; my grandfather on my mother’s side was Cro-Magnon). The results were as informative as they were entertaining—I highly recommend it to any advisors who already have, or are intent on opening, business Twitter accounts. They even included a few, not many, articles about the potential business risks of tweeting, and how to manage them.
I’ll spare you the list of “controversial” tweets that were either blatantly, or interpreted to be, racist or gay-bashing. Let’s just assume that as professional advisors, you’re all well aware of our current social sensitivity to these issues. But I would add a cautionary note that Twitterdom seems to be littered with the wreckage of careers and companies of people who believed their tweets where within the bounds of political correctness, only to have the public decide otherwise. I’ll also skip the sexually oriented tweets that Tiger Woods and Anthony Weiner (not to mention the lengthy, now public exchange between “Candy DeepThroat” and Matt Barnes of the L.A. Lakers) have so graphically demonstrated are a really bad idea.
Here then, with those admittedly sizable omissions, is my list of the most educational and amusing tweets to be found on the Internet, in three categories: celebrity (leaning on theweek.com), sports (with help from complex.com/sports), and business (from inc.com):
Tweet Tales From the World of Celebrities
- The once die-hard Christian Miley Cyrus recently tweeted a quote by physicist Lawrence Krauss that she found “uplifting.” “You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded…So forget Jesus. Stars died so you could live.”
The result: Many of her fans were outraged.
- The late film critic Roger Ebert, after Jackass star Ryan Dunn died in a drunk driving accident wrote: “Friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive.”
The result: This was widely felt to be “insensitive.”
- Rapper Kanye West in a tweet that has since been hand stitched into artwork and framed for sale on the Internet: “I specifically ordered Persian rugs with cherub imagery!!! What do I have to do to get a simple Persian rug with cherub imagery uuuuugh.”
The result: Many of his fans, who, like most of us, have more to worry about than Persian rugs, were not amused.
Tweet Tales From SportsLand
- Chad Ochocinco, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals (who has since changed his name back to Chad Johnson, posted this tweet a couple of years back: "Man I’m sick of getting hit like that, it’s the damn preseason! 1day I'm gone jump up and start throwing hay makers, #Tylenolplease."
The result: He was fined $25,000 by the NFL for threatening illegal violence, and later pleaded with the League to waive his fine, saying “it's like 2 months of my Bugatti payments." The NFL was not swayed, and neither were Cincinnati fans unsympathetic to the self-inflicted travails of a player making $6 million a year. Ochocinco was eventually cut by the Bengals.
- Denny Hamlin, NASCAR driver. His tweet? "Truthfully I don't think it matters to the fans who wins the race as long as it’s a good ‘show’ Even if it comes as the expense of competition."
The result: According to Hamlin, he was just trying to have an open debate on ways to improve racing. Unfortunately for him, NASCAR didn't take kindly to the implication that its drivers weren’t trying to win. Hamlin was fined $50,000.
- Floyd Mayweather Jr., the professional boxer with four million Twitter followers, tweeted: “Jeremy Lin [of the New York Knicks] is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”
The result: I know I said I’d leave out racism, but the uproar this tweet caused in New York clearly underscores that public sensitivity extends to all races.
Tweet Tales From the Business World
- Oprah Winfrey: "Every 1 who can please turn to OWN especially if u have a Nielsen box."
The result: Seemingly innocent, this tweet was seen as an attempt to boost ratings at her failing network: a major breach of Nielsen’s rules. Oprah apologized and deleted the tweet, but the Oprah Winfrey Network still had to suffer through an investigation.
The result: Unfortunately, Francesca’s is a publicly traded company, FRAN. The company info in the tweet went out before it was made public, making it inside information. He was promptly fired.
The result: The timing obviously couldn’t have been worse, particularly for an organization whose aim is to increase the acceptance of gun ownership.
The result: Even though it was her personal account, the name SweetLeafApril posed some embarrassment for her company, and she was fired.
Suffice it to say there are a lot of ways to step in it with tweets. According to Jay Baer, who writes the Social Media Case Studies column on ConvinceandConvert.com, corporate Twitter “train wrecks” fall into three categories:
1) sending tweets from a corporate rather a personal account
2) being “tone deaf” to social sensitivities
3) posting “too much information” in an attempt to make tweets personal, such as SweetLeafApril above.
In theory these “risks” are “manageable,” once they are identified. Yet the above short list (taken from the hundreds of examples) illustrates that even with the largest corporations, and the biggest stars, both with teams of media and public relations experts, tweeting can be a risky business. At smaller businesses, such as independent advisory firms, with very limited resources, the risk can only be greater. To my 20th century mind, the benefits of tweeting would have to be demonstrably large to offset those risks.