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For individuals, celebrities and brands alike, social media can be a valuable tool for building a brand and creating positive interactions with consumers and supporters. It's also proven to be incredibly important when crisis strikes.

Crisis isn't something Ashton Kutcher has known much about. The Hollywood celebrity and part-time tech investor was the first person to gain 1m followers on Twitter, and his Twitter feed is often cited as a case study for how celebrities can put Twitter to great use.

But when it comes to his social media success, it appears the actor may have been more lucky than good.

Last week, Kutcher came under fire after posting a tweet criticizing the firing of a popular college football coach in the United States. What he apparently didn't know at the time was that the coach was fired as part of an investigation into an ugly situation involving sexual assaults against children.

Needless to say, the reactions to Kutcher's tweet were swift and vicious. And they were quite understandable: how could Kutcher complain about the firing of a man who allegedly didn't take action when faced with knowledge that one of his colleagues was abusing children?

Kutcher, who is actively involved in the fight against child exploitation, apologized, and on Thursday, he effectively bowed out of Twitter, writing:

A collection of over 8 million followers is not to be taken for granted. I feel responsible to deliver informed opinions and not spread gossip or rumors through my twitter feed. While I feel that running this feed myself gives me a closer relationship to my friends and fans I've come to realize that it has grown into more than a fun tool to communicate with people.

While I will continue to express myself through @Aplusk, I'm going to turn the management of the feed over to my team at Katalyst as a secondary editorial measure, to ensure the quality of its content. My sincere apologies to anyone who I offended. It was a mistake that will not happen again.

Translation: I'll let "my people" manage my Twitter account because I'm not sure I can keep myself from putting my foot in my mouth.

It's a curious move for Kutcher given the accolades he's received as a social media maven, raising the question: was he ever really a good social media example in the first place?

Kutcher's Twitter turnabout serves as a strong reminder: social media prolificacy, as measured by tweets, followers, 'influence' and general prominence, doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing it right.

In Kutcher's case, a willingness to 'engage' with the public through social media outlets like Twitter masked the fact that he was no more capable of avoiding a self-inflicted social media crisis than a rank-and-file social media amateur.

So what can other celebrities, individuals and brands learn from his mistake? There are three key lessons here:

'Engagement' doesn't mean voicing every opinion.

Your Twitter and Facebook accounts should not be a publishing platform for your stream of consciousness. Just because you have a thought or an opinion doesn't mean that it needs to be tweeted, particularly when that thought or opinion is not really one that others would believe you especially qualified to voice.

Here, self-censorship can be healthy, but what's even healthier is conditioning yourself not to have to feel the need to weigh in on every issue.

It's easy to talk the social media talk, but it's harder to walk the walk.

In an interview with Details magazine, Kutcher once stated, "You don't have to share everything, and it's healthy to occasionally hit the pause button and ask yourself if you're oversharing."

This advice was apparently more easily dispensed than followed. Which highlights the fact that even though many of the best practices for doing social media right are little more than common sense, and are widely promoted by social media gurus, individuals don't always practice what they preach.

If you can't stand the heat, don't enter the kitchen.

Kutcher's immediate response to his Twitter faux pas was a good one: he apologized and acknowledged that he should have gotten his facts straight before commenting on a situation he had inadequate knowledge of.

At that point, he should have closed his mouth and laid low. Instead, Kutcher very publicly handed-off of his Twitter account to his handlers, revealing the fact that he was nothing more than a social media paper tiger.

At the end of the day, if you're not prepared to maintain your social media presence when the going gets tough, you probably should reconsider your use of social media in the first place.

Patricio Robles

Published 14 November, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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Henry Elliss

Henry Elliss, Digital Marketing Director at Tamar

It's not really any surprise - aside from being some sort of social media "god", Kutcher isn't exactly known for his stunning intellect. It was only a matter of time before he made an error - though I don't think he should quit Twitter as a result of it. That's the weak way out...

almost 5 years ago

Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson, CEO at Quru OySmall Business

When you have 8 million followers you can comment on the matter. Until then I think you're being a bit naive. There is nothing at all wrong with employing help when you feel you need it.

I would argue that Kutcher was authentic in his apology and then took actions to make sure he never let his follower base down again. I would also argue that he did re-consider his use of social media and took a responsible course of action. He is an actor not a "social media guru" as many self styled journalists/bloggers claim to be.

I am not a particular fan or a follower of Kutcher but I do sympathise with the guy when he gets blasted from all sides first for making a mistake, then for apologizing and then for making sure it would never happen again.

I think it's a wise move to let someone edit prior to publishing when you have that level of following. Tell me, do e-consultancy.com have 8 million followers? No. Ok. Do they have editors? Oh wait yes. So does that make you paper tigers? Thought not.

Think about it. :D

almost 5 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

I think you make a great point about not over-sharing. Brands especially have to be careful. Who is the voice behind your Twitter/Facebook accounts? Can they be trusted to know when enough is enough?

almost 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Steve - it's a good point but I think there is an explicit understanding that @Econsultancy isn't an individual on Twitter, we're a brand. Tweets come from a team and there are editorial policies in place because of this.

Technically I'm in charge of the @Econsultancy account, but I don't chat with my friends or post links to random Iron Maiden videos through it (there's more than enough of that on my personal account).

@Aplusk IS Ashton Kutcher, not "Aston Kutcher Enterprises". Unfortunately in many cases celebrities ARE brands, and it can be difficult to mix business and pleasure on a personal account.

If we made out that Econsultancy was one person then fair enough, but we don't (Which hopefully means you don't get too many Friday night pub tweets from us)

Personally I agree that it was an honest mistake, and he handled it very well. However, I do think there's an argument to be made about representation. Why do people follow on Twitter - are they following the person or their business ventures?

almost 5 years ago

Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson, CEO at Quru OySmall Business

Matt, fair enough but you're missing my point slightly.

I am not criticizing eConsultancy nor even trying to somehow allude to it. Nor am I saying that eConsultancy are perceived as an individual when they post tweets.

My point isn't about eConsultancy as such, i disagree with the sentiment that because someone made a rational decision to hire professional editors to check all the facts before publishing tweets to 8 Million people that he becomes a lightweight overnight that should look at why he is using social in the first place.

To me that opinion is simply flawed.

Social media has turned us all into publishers as you rightly say. For years it's been the rule not the exception that publications have been edited. Mistakes like the one Kutcher made are precisely why. My point is that if it's OK for a journalist of let's say a newspaper to have editors why isn't it OK for a guy who has a larger following than the population of Finland to have them?

As someone else pointed out he isn't the most intelligent person on the planet, but then again he has made a lot of good decisions over his career and probably one of them is an astute knowledge of when he is out of his depth. When to hire someone cleverer than himself is most likely one of his better skills otherwise he would not be where he is today.

So like I said (and it was directed at the original poster not eConsultancy) I think it's a bit naive to criticise Kutcher in the way he did.

almost 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Thanks Steve - no, I largely agree with you.

I think the place this sort of thing get's slippery is when it comes to representation. It's widely known that politicians (for example) have speech-writers and spin doctors, and plenty of celebs get their jokes written for them, but I do think Twitter is all about the personal touch - will people (other than the self-proclaimed social media gurus out there) still be as keen to follow the @aplusk account if it's specifically stated that it isn't Ashton himself tweeting?
To be fair, this might be one for the digital sociologists as much as anyone!

almost 5 years ago



I'd heard of him but did not know too much apart from him being an actor and being involved in some tech start ups. I just had a quick look back on his feed and it looks as though most of his feed was written for him. He chips in with the occasional thing to keep it honest but most of it is generally well researched stuff which he probably paid to get done i.e. write me 20 tweets and I'll pick the best four.

So most of his tweets were ghost written anyway and he has just decided to cut out his own stuff...or his management company has decided.

He won't be missed.

almost 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


"There is nothing at all wrong with employing help when you feel you need it."

That's fair enough when that decision is made rationally and strategically.

When you decide, on the other hand, to turn your social media presence over to your handlers simply because you put your foot in your mouth and can't handle the embarrassment, I'd argue you're "doing it wrong."

almost 5 years ago

Steve Jackson

Steve Jackson, CEO at Quru OySmall Business


I don't disagree, maybe he is doing it wrong. Maybe that would be an easy case for me and you to handle when there are only 1000s of niche followers to worry about but I where I differ is that you're not putting it into the Ashton Kutcher context.

When you have a twitter feed that is constantly updating (10s of tweets per second to your account) and you're constantly being referenced, and you're constantly being hastagged and it goes wrong you suddenly have a PR nightmare. Articles spring up everywhere telling you what a plank of wood you are and you're suddenly faced with a crisis because of a 150 char sentence you put out to the world.

To me it is a rational and strategic decision he has made.


almost 5 years ago


Onur Ibrahim

It is easy to criticise mistakes. Ashton was using his social channels as one would to speak to friends. It is often the case when accounts grow beyond 'fun size' and enter 'PR/Brand size' spaces they get much more public attention and should have a team vetting the content for legal reasons more than to protect image deformation.

I am sure that Ashton would not like to get sued for misquoting someone or creating a libel case (http://bit.ly/tHHZRP) by mistake. He might open another anonymous channel to continue 'friend' banter and have his social media team vet content that is published via the 'artist' account so that he does not make public errors. The Social team could work with him on a daily, weekly, monthly basis and produce an editorial calender or even just receive his tweets via email and publish on his behalf after research and vetting of content. This way he can still write his own Tweets but be re-assured that he will not damage his artist reputation.

almost 5 years ago

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