Have you ever been annoyed when someone misspells your name? Then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people got a little more than miffed when a voice of authority in education of all things bungles the name of an historical figure. No matter how well intended the action was, the focus just ends being on the flub.
A part of their recognition of Black History Month, the U.S. Department of Education tweeted a photo of and quote from renowned author and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois.
By itself, the posting has all the right ingredients – great content, an emotional connection, timeliness, and so on. So how does a perfectly appropriate message like this instantly go haywire?
Well, here’s the exact message in the tweet:
“Education must not simply teach work – it must teach life. – W.E.B. DeBois.”2
Did you catch it?
No? If you’re not an expert on history, no worries – that’s easily forgivable.
However, if you’re the nation’s ranking authority on education, the bar is set pretty high, as it should be.
After all, this is the very department that sets the educational bar for the nation! So, it works both ways.
And that means even an honest mistake like spelling the name of your tweet’s subject (it’s W.E.B. Du Bois, by the way) wrong is kind of a big deal here.
It’s big because instead of what should have been a benign, innocuous post that would come and go, it was instead grabbing headlines that made no bones about the mistake:
For instance, it gets derided by public figures such as Chelsea Clinton:
“Is it funny sad or sad funny that our Dept of Education misspelled the name of the great W. E. B. Du Bois?”3
And gets a chiding from the organizations such as the NAACP:
“In the Days of Loose & Careless Logic, We Must Teach Thinkers to THINK.” – William Edward Burghardt DU Bois”4
And of course, the media outlets weren’t about to hold back either:
The Guardian: US Department of Education gets WEB Du Bois’s name wrong in tweet
Yahoo! News: Dept. of Education apologizes for misspelling W.E.B. Du Bois
HuffPost: The Department Of Education Misspells Apology For Misspelling W.E.B. Du Bois’ Name
The Washington Post: DeVos’s Education Department misspells name of NAACP co-founder in tweet — and the apology had a mistake
USA Today: Education Dept. torched for misspelling W.E.B. Du Bois in tweet
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
To their credit, the Department corrected the error and issued an apology (bolding is mine):
“Post updated – our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo.”
Yes, there was an error (misspelling) in their apology for the error.
Nothing like throwing gasoline on a PR dumpster fire.
After that error was discovered, the apology tweet was quickly corrected to “apologies” but as you know, “the internet is forever”.
And now the apology ends up just making things worse for a government agency already that was already under scrutiny due to the Dept. of Education’s controversial Secretary, Betsy DeVos.
Whomever happens to be in charge at the time makes no difference, or where the tweet originates from for that matter.
Like any product or service worth its salt, communications need to go through a “quality control” check before they’re released into the public arena. When it comes to tweets, those checks include spelling and grammar.
So, the solution here should apply at all times – Don’t post any content until after it’s been thoroughly proofread by a second set of eyes. Build that step into your social media plan – no exceptions.
Yes, we want to be relevant, sound natural, and invoke emotion but having your processes in place makes every move deliberate and strategic.
The Dept. of Education’s Du Bois debacle may have in part been due to a moment of spontaneity (their apology tweet and second error was obviously unplanned) and we can see in two quick instances why accuracy is so critical.
How about an apology that actually does Du Bois justice:
Even today we learn the power of W.E.B. Du Bois’ work and mindfulness regarding education and striving to be the best one can be, which the Department of Education should so be inclined to follow:
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year.”
Plan, write, proofread, revise, proofread again. It’s your best defense against making a fool of yourself.
Because as you’ve just seen, just one wrong vowel can make the difference between great PR and an embarrassing disaster.
*Anti-PR™ definition: Anti-PR is really the difference between the existing apathy of the industry publicizing fluffy, no-result PR vs. our intolerance of mediocrity and our demand, skill and mastery in obtaining results. JoTo PR breaks the entire mold: We use the science of Crisis Management to manage our client’s messaging in order to disrupt. It’s like strapping turbojets onto “everyday PR” yielding unprecedented results.