by Matt Barkett

July 23, 2014

As more companies, organizations and even government offices get into the social media act, we were given another reminder this week of why it’s important to have some safeguards in place to ensure your communications on social media are being handled thoughtfully and responsibly.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water learned this lesson the hard way when an intern posted a Tweet promoting the new “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” app where people can join Kardashian on their own Hollywood red carpet “adventure.” Perhaps the intern meant to use his or her personal Twitter account rather than the agency’s account, as it’s easy to forget to toggle back and forth. In any event, while the Tweet was taken down after about three hours, the buzz was already off and running.

Nearly 3,000 retweets had already appeared, including some from the offices of lawmakers who follow the EPA’s Twitter feed and have processes in place to retweet them. Eventually, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., an author of the Clean Water Act, weighed in with a note of concern via his own Twitter account, even poking a little fun at his own lack of knowledge about the world of the Kardashians.

Certainly we’ve seen a lot of instances where inadvertent or ill-conceived social media activity caused more harm than this one. However, it’s a good lesson for anyone whose organization communicates via social media. In many cases, social media communications responsibility falls to a junior staffer – perhaps even an intern, as it was in this case – because, well, they understand it a lot better than some, um, more seasoned professionals do. That does not, however, mean that the junior folks will always make the right decision regarding content of their Tweets or Facebook posts, and as such the senior folks should still be involved in some way in the approval process.

Nevertheless, all’s well that ends well. The relatively unknown EPA Office of Water got its day in the Twitter spotlight, the intern received some retraining to prevent future transgressions, and Kim Kardashian got a publicity boost for her new app, which, of course, is expected to generate $200 million in sales via in-app purchases. I’m sure she’ll get a cut.