Swift Action & Fact Verification Critical in Viral #PR

September 12th, 2011   •   2 comments   

I have been following the news reports about the Twitter account hack on @NBCNews when Friday at 5:48 PM (EST) someone posted “Breaking News! Ground Zero has just been attacked. Flight 5736 has crashed in the site, suspected hijacking. More as the story develops.” A tweet like this is a news organization’s worst nightmare.  Thankfully, NBC’s director of social media, Ryan Osborn (@rozzy), was monitoring the account and took immediate action.  Only 8 minutes after the post, the account was shut down. Within 2 hours, the NBC account was secured and restored.  Following, NBC then posted that the account had been hacked, corrected the information and apologized for the scare of such a “reckless and irresponsible act.” 

I have often said that Twitter is the “trip wire” for news.  What I believe makes it so is that anybody can retweet or re-post anything that is posted on Twitter.  The tool itself, due to its open platform, is the ideal tool for news.  I think that’s why so many journalists have flocked to the site if nothing else, to see what is being said and to search for stories and information.  Data mining is powerful stuff. 

What’s now being discussed is the importance of verification of data: Making sure that information shared is factual, verified, truthful and relevant.  Often reporters are so focused on “breaking the story” first that they rush to be first and hopefully they rush to be right.  Being right is critical.  Responding at the speed of clicks is also critical.  Ryan Osborn’s ability to react and correct so quickly for NBC News hinged on the fact that he was monitoring and knew what to do 40 seconds after he saw the hacker’s tweet.  Simultaneously, NBC made the right decision to report this on “NBC Nightly News” and have news anchor Brian Williams read the apology and report what happened.  Imagine this scenario: Hackers post more tweets that get viral and go unnoticed by a news organization for say, a few hours.  What damage could have really been done?  Also consider the credibility that would have been lost, had this news organization not been on top of monitoring. 

Lessons are clear: PR/news is 24/7 and viral.  If you are going to be in the game, you must be on your game.  Monitoring and utilizing tools available to help you stay informed are key to successful organizations. The news media is not immune from PR threats in the viral world of web that we have come to appreciate.  It is important to know what to do when something goes awry with the tools.  What would hacking do to your brand? Think about what could be exposed.  Have a plan of action for when something goes wrong, because as exemplified by NBC, it fortunately paid off.  Twitter is not a tool that is used Monday – Friday from 9-5. For those of you in business–and especially in the news or PR jobs–Twitter is a tool you must keep in your back pocket, close at all times and watched over carefully. Thanks for reading this post and I’d love to hear what you think.


  1. The question begins to be begged, that if social media is, obviously, not secure, when does the risk become too much for the reward? What damage, not necessarily to NBC, is too much? Could this have gone viral, causing a panic that actually injured people? I talk to business owners all the time who see the risks, along with the investment of time in SMM, not worth the ROI. Could they be correct? Does this incident underscore the risks associated with the fact that SMM is made up of almost all Sellers and very, very few Buyers? As a longtime proponent of SMM, sometimes I begin to wonder…

  2. amy Howell says:

    Preston: Your thoughts are right on. The key point here is that people can (and will) talk about your business anyway. I tell my clients that it is much better to listen, monitor and know what's out there vs. not being in the social space. Fast fact verification and getting your message out is critical in today's business. Additionally, on the PR front, if you are watching and listening (as a business) you can almost predict what a reporter is going to be looking for (especially in a crisis). Thanks for commenting!

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