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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.