The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World

Posted on December 22, 2013 by Josh Linkner

Little did she know, Justine Sacco’s entire career was ruined while she flew from London to South Africa this past Friday.  Unfortunately, these were self-inflicted wounds that were set in motion by a single tweet she made prior to boarding the flight.  With horrible judgment, zero sensitivity, and a bigoted perspective, she tweeted: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

At the time of her departure, Sacco had only 500 Twitter followers.  But by the time she landed, the tweet went viral and drew the outrage of millions.  Her 12 words of stupidity created an international firestorm, and caused her employer, IAC, to quickly fire this careless executive.

Ironically, that same day at 12:01 am, another viral storm spread.  Beyonce unexpectedly launched her new album by posting it on Facebook and Instragram.  The recording is only available on iTunes and was released online with zero warning, PR, or marketing.  BySunday, Apple confirmed that this album was the fastest selling work in the history of the iTunes store, selling 828,773 copies in just three days.

The explosive buzz on Friday the 13th – one positive and one destructive – teaches us two valuable lessons:

1. Provocative messages get amplified.  In both cases above, the word spread like wildfire because the content was noteworthy.  It made people say, “Wow.  You need to check this out!”  If you’re trying to get your own message heard above the non-stop noise, you need to craft a story that can’t be ignored.  Something that is so compelling, remarkable, and gripping that the world takes notice.  If you promote your business as “one call does it all,” you might as well say nothing because the content is so bland it will never be embraced.

2. A single message can boost or destroy.  In the world of social media and global access, your fate can change in an instant.  As you communicate in any context (email, social media, voice messages, etc.), make sure to run your words through a filter before hitting “send.”  Does what you’re about to say truly represent your values?  Are you reinforcing a deliberate message or saying something reckless that could erode your brand or come back to haunt you?

Powerful messages – both good and bad – spread fast.  Make sure you carefully craft yours to drive your objectives and to contribute positively to the world.  Choose your words carefully to make sure that if your next tweet is heard ‘round the world, it will be something you’re proud of.

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