It was a regrettable tweet. It didn’t hit the mark. But more than anything, it should have never come to this.
In quite possibly the highest-profile social media firing over an ill-advised tweet ever, the Houston Rockets quickly and publicly parted ways with the team’s long-time social media manager, Chad Shanks. The tweet — seen by many but hastily deleted — appeared near the end of the April 28 NBA playoff game between the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.
The incident stirred a bevy of sports industry conversations online and offline. It incited fan reactions — for and against. And it created another valuable dialogue among those who follow sports and social media.
Chad Shanks’ firing is equal parts disturbing and disappointing. Yes, the tweet offended some. It crossed the line. Even Shanks expressed regret. It was a bad idea.
But do not quickly and blindly lump this story into the many others about social media managers, coordinators or interns who used poor judgment, demonstrated rogue behavior or experienced account confusion.
Shanks was a veteran social media pro with a masters’ degree in journalism, and previous PR and marketing experience. He’s been the fingers behind the @HoustonRockets for four years. (As someone who ran a big brand’s Twitter account for more than five years, I can tell you that’s an eternity in social media years.) His peers envied his freedom and creativity. Many Rockets’ fans loved his work.
But he should not have been fired for one tweet.
Social media managers are rapidly becoming the most visible people behind their brands, stepping past traditional spokespeople or other PR types. As platforms have grown, social media managers have collected power as the “social voice” of their brands — none more visible than sports, which — oh by the way — drives 60 percent of Twitter’s traffic.
Yes, there’s probably more to the Chad Shanks story. And he admitted to pushing the limits. But social media managers — whether they’re representing sports teams, car brands, TV networks and everything in-between — are not on an island. They did not set sail to Twitter’s unique and often misunderstood world of 140 characters by themselves.
Twitter, and social media in general, must be part of larger digital and branding strategies. They must work together, not separately, or in complete isolation. Rockets’ leadership failed Chad Shanks by not providing proper clarity, direction or oversight. More important than heavy-handed supervision or micromanagement, though, they did not do enough to understand what Shanks was doing and how it fit into the team’s image and messaging.
If one tweet can cost a social media manager his/her job, leadership did not provide the guard rails necessary to prevent such a mishap.
Social media managers can use this as a lesson and opportunity to speak up — and step up. Take time to review your social activities and make sure they connect to your brand’s larger strategy. Given this higher pressure and added scrutiny, make sure leadership understands what you’re doing. Is it hurting or advancing the brand? Is it too edgy or boring?
Because social media managers are not on an island. They command a seat at the table. They deserve to be trusted and understood — not feared or cast out.
Thanks for being a fan.