Being Prepared for All Responses

Case Study 6 min
Examine the lessons learned from an Army tweet show how a post could go wrong if all potential responses are not thought through with appropriate responses to maintain control of the narrative.

Real World Example: Being Prepared for All Responses

Navigate the timeline by selecting points of information.

May 23, 2019 3:05 PM
Initial Tweet

The Army tweets a #WhyIServe video a few days before Memorial Day.
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A screenshot of a tweet by the U.S. Army with the text "Hear from Pfc. Nathan Spencer, a scout with @FightingFirst who shares how the #USArmy has influenced his life. Video by @FortBenning #WhyIServe #KnowYourMil #ArmyValues." Below this text is a screencapture of a video of a man in army uniform. The video has 1.3 million views. The tweet has 1.1K retweets and 4.7K likes.

May 23, 2019 4:34 PM
Starts the Conversation

The Army replies "How has serving impacted you? " to start the conversation from the initial tweet.
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A screenshot of a tweet by the U.S. Army with the text "How has serving impacted you?" Above this text is a screencapture of a video of a man in army uniform. The video has 1.3 million views. The tweet has 9.2K retweets and 17.9K likes.

May 23, 2019 4:35 PM
The Public Response

An overwhelming amount of responses poured in from service members, wives, family members and friends.

3/7
A screenshot shows two replies to a tweet by the U.S. Army. The original tweet reads "How has serving impacted you?" The first reply reads "My husband's service meant I had to give up my career, live far from family & friends, gave birth alone, almost got divorced, & have raised 3 kids mostly on my own - but, hey, I get to shop at the PX." This reply was posted at 1:25AM on May 24, 2019 and has 428 retweets and 6K likes. The second reply reads "My father had PTSD from his time in Nam became a violent alcoholic. He died of cancer in part due to agent orange. My aunt was diagnosed with mental health issues and was discharged and fought the VA for help for 20 years. My second cousin was 19 when he was killed in Iraq." This reply was posted at 9:02 PM on May 25, 2019 and has 118 retweets and 1.7K likes.

May 25, 2019 1:41 PM
Army Validates Stories

Two days later, the Army connected with and validated the stories with a tweet thanking those who shared.

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A screenshot shows the U.S. Army replying to its own tweet which read "How has serving impacted you?". The reply reads "To everyone who responded to this thread, thank you for sharing your story. Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations. The Army is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our Soldiers." The reply has 265 retweets and 2.9K likes.

May 25, 2019 1:41 PM
Immediate Follow-Up

They continue validating the stories by replying immediately to acknowledge and honor "...those who came back home with scars we can't see."
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A screenshot shows the U.S. Army replying to a thread of consisting of its own tweet and previous reply. The original tweet reads "How has serving impacted you?". The first reply reads "To everyone who responded to this thread, thank you for sharing your story. Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations. The Army is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our Soldiers." The latest reply reads "As we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this weekend by remembering their service, we are also mindful of the fact that we have to take care of those who came back with scars we can't see.". The latest reply has 719 retweets and 3.6K likes.

May 25, 2019 1:41 PM
Crisis Support

The Army then tweeted the phone number and website for the Veterans Crisis Line.
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A screenshot shows a tweet from the U.S. Army that reads "If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (and press 1 to talk to someone NOW) or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net" A graphic of a couple with two children and the text "Be there for the veterans in your life." accompanies the weblink.

May 26, 2019 2:26 PM
Media Reports on Incident

The tweet continued to garner engagement and gained the attention of national media, including USA Today and NPR.
7/7
A screenshot of the NPR website shows the headline "A U.S. Army Tweet asking 'How has serving impacted you' got an agonizing response". An image of a man in uniform accompanied by his family, their backs to the camera, accompanies this headline.

The Case

The Thursday before Memorial Day, the Army sends out a tweet that leads to a communications issue. The initial tweet shows a private explaining how serving has influenced his life. The next tweet is a reply to the video that says, "How has serving impacted you?" 

The responses start pouring in, but unlike the uplifting tone of the original tweet, these are negative, heart-wrenching replies that reference mental and physical injuries of service members. The horrific responses come from service members themselves, their family and their friends. The tweet receives more than ten times the engagements most Army tweets receive, going viral, but not in the way any service or organization would want.

After two days of silence from the Army account and horrid stories, the Army responds to the public. The account publicly validates the experiences and stories shared by users and emphasizes their commitment to their soldiers. They follow up with two more tweets that incorporate Memorial Day and reassure their audience that they have not forgotten about service members who did come home. Their follow-up also provides the veterans crisis line website and number. All of this was not enough to stop what was already in motion from the virality of the tweet among the public and the negative responses continued coming in. 

Because of the attention the tweet receives, the media discovers the responses and runs with them, shedding further light on the "agonizing response" from veterans and their families, while exemplifying a complete loss of the narrative by the Army to the public.

Lessons Learned

The response the Army gave was proper and could have sufficed for their own audience but it was too late. The two-day delay helped the post go viral, beyond their primary audience, in a definitively negative light. This let the general public take control of the narrative to cast serious doubt around how much the service cares about the men and women in their charge.

If potential responses to the post had been more thought out prior to posting, this scenario could have been avoided entirely. Even an earlier response on the first two or three replies may have turned the situation around.

Before posting on any platform, be prepared for all responses. Think through at least three scenarios:

  1. What is the best way this post could be received?
  2. What is the worst way this post could be received?
  3. How do I expect this post to be received?

Have responses prepared for each scenario so that you can respond immediately to keep control of the narrative and have a better interaction with your audience. Knowing the audience is the key to being prepared. Put yourself in their mindset while thinking through the scenarios and how they could possibly respond. Use these scenarios to inform the post before anyone sees it, and to avoid "going viral" for the wrong reasons and causing a public affairs issue.

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