What do you do when you make an embarrassing mistake on the social web? I have been seeing different behaviors and wanted to pen my thoughts on how your behavior affects the trust others place in you.
Yesterday, a well-known person in the tech world tweeted a screenshot about what she thought was a new feature in Gmail. After I pointed out that it probably wasn’t a new feature at all, she simply deleted her tweet.
At the same time, a tech blog picked up her tweet and wrote a blog post describing this ‘new’ Gmail feature. After I @replied the blogger, rather than updating the post, they deleted the post entirely. (They later reinstated the post after I publicly voiced my disappointment).
Many months earlier, the same person had retweeted a TechCrunch tweet that had a sensational headline, but a bad URL link. It was obvious that she had retweeted it without even clicking on the link. After realizing what had happened, she simply deleted her retweet.
Contrast this with the following examples.
Yesterday, a prominent Indian celebrity’s Twitter account was hacked, and it started tweeting malicious URLs. Others started retweeting these with comments about it being hacked.
As soon as a friend I follow discovered that these URLs were malicious, she deleted her old-style retweet. But after that, she tweeted publicly that she was doing so to avoid others clicking on that link.
Couple of days back, I wrote a post about Schmidt’s comments apparently disappearing from a WSJ article. It was soon brought to my attention that the comments were indeed there, and another news story was merged with the original one, which had caused the confusion.
Within seconds, I scrambled to update the post, tweet that it was a mistake on my part, and thank the person who pointed it out both in the post and on Twitter. The thought of deleting the post entirely never even crossed my mind.
There are several other instances I have seen on FriendFeed, where a few people made rude comments about someone. In some cases, they apologized in later comments, in others, they simply deleted the rude remarks. In the case of the former, the relationships healed, in the latter, they were permanently estranged.
There are numerous such examples all of us encounter in the social web. The different behaviors I’ve seen fall under three broad categories:
- Delete any instances revealing the mistake and say nothing about it publicly.
- Delete any instances revealing the mistake, and thank the person who pointed it out privately.
- Retain the evidence of your mistake, and publicly thank the person who pointed it out.
Most people I’ve observed practice either #1 or #2. They hope that in this world of inter-connected networks, their cross-posted tweets and comments that are auto-posted and shared across a multitude of other networks won’t be seen by the majority of their followers. These practices avoid the public embarrassment, while apparently retaining their trust and influence with those who didn’t discover the mistake.
On the other hand, virtually all the people whom I trust and respect the most in the online world, follow #3. Why?
Because not only do they retain their trust and influence, they actually enhance it by their public admission and expression of gratitude. They know and accept that to err is human. Their public admission shows all their followers that their word can be trusted. Their public expression of gratitude reveals that they listen to their followers and are ready to admit their mistakes.
They convert an embarrassing “Oops!” moment into an opportunity to build their trust. What do you think? Which of the three categories of behavior do you think is the best?