Signal to Noise and Justine Sacco: Why Her PR Crisis Has Absolutely Nothing to do With You


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Anyone who’s been on social media in the past few weeks has probably heard about Justine Sacco and the trouble she got herself into on Twitter.

Sacco, a PR executive at media company IAC, tweeted what you see above before heading off to Africa by plane. Boing Boing called her tweet “the tweet heard round the world.” While she was in the air, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet sprung up (she didn’t have internet in the air), and shortly after landing, Sacco was fired.

Despite an apology by Sacco recently, emotions are running high, and people from all around the world are continuing to tune in and voice their opinions about the incident on social media.

I’m here to do much the same–to voice my opinion–and tell you that this PR crisis has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Sacco’s actions aren’t actions of IAC, a leading media company that is, undoubtedly, calculated in all of its decisions. Nor was her tweet the tweet of a well-versed PR executive, who understands that shooting from the hip on Twitter, however easy it may be, is not the right way to go about doing things on social media. Her tweet wasn’t the action ofany organization, either–it was the action of a single individual with astonishingly poor judgment, one that was almost entirely self-inflicted.

IAC would’ve recognized that, no matter the intention, such a tweet would almost certainly be interpreted in a bad light. A well-versed PR executive would’ve known that social media has made strategy essential–shooting from the hip is no way to do things, even if it is very convenient. And an organization–any organization, I’d like to think–would’ve realized that tweeting anything prior to being disconnected from the internet, unable to respond, for half a day, was a terrible idea.

What happened with Justine Sacco was just one misguided individual making a terrible mistake on social media.

In a lot of ways, then, Justine Sacco can be likened to Amy of Amy’s Baking Company. Amydrove herself and her business into the ground earlier this year when she posted a series of rants following her appearance on Kitchen Nightmares. Of course, the social media lynch mob hopped on board, and before long, her reputation was nothing short of ruined–much like Sacco’s, I imagine.

The thing is, you’re not like Justine Sacco or Amy of Amy’s Baking Company.

You’re different because you know that “The nuances of our real lives, our selves aren’t communicated in tweets or in shiny Instagram pictures, but they sure can be destroyed that way.” You know that people on social media are–for better or worse–constantly looking for something to criticize. You know that the noise to signal ratio is high in the era of social media, and that you need to contribute to the latter rather than the former. And above all, you know that social media has deeply intensified the need to be calculated about how you act.

It’s no longer acceptable to go around haphazardly posting things and making comments about others (not that it ever was before, to be fair). Am I saying that people don’t make mistakes? Absolutely not–and in fact, I happen to join a few others in having sympathy for Justine Sacco. I know that people make mistakes and that it’s not fair to judge them on those mistakes. But I also know that many of those mistakes could’ve been avoided with better judgment, and that life isn’t always fair.

Perhaps social media made something out of nothing with their reaction to Sacco. And perhaps it’s unfair that she was fired for her mistake (though I’ll remind you: she is a PR executive). But this whole entire incident reinforces yet again that strategy is essential on social media. Firing off tweets without any sort of review, strategy, or intensive thought process is just asking to be eaten alive by the social media lynch mob.

But then again, I know that you’re nothing like Justine Sacco. You’re calculated, serious, and you’re not a jerk. Don’t let yourself slide away from any of those things, and Sacco’s PR crisis will continue to have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: Twitter/Justine Sacco via Boing Boing

About the author: John Darwin

John is a recent college graduate from Creighton University. He earned his B.A. in English, specializing in British Literature, and is currently working as an editor at Social Media Contractors.

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