Think before you tweet: Eric Bristow and the great social media fails

Right about now, Eric Bristow’s management team must be going into meltdown.

The media storm in the wake of the former World Number 1 darts player taking to Twitter to express his views this week is likely to test anyone to their limits.

And in the history of Twitter fails, this has got to go down as one of the worst.

The Crafty Cockney spouted views that footballers who recently revealed they’d been victims of abuse within the sport were “wimps” and not “proper men”.

He alleged that abuse wouldn’t happen within rugby or darts, and even stated that a football coach who had been imprisoned for sexual abuse was a “poof” - before clarifying that he’d meant to call him a “paedo”.

So he not only insulted abuse victims, but the entire gay community.

The fallout was spectacular, with Sky TV immediately sacking him as a sports pundit, and several brands and charities coming forward to reveal they were cancelling events or public appearances involving Bristow – and would no longer work with him.

When looking to avoid social media mistakes, there is one analogy which always holds true. A colleague summed it up perfectly, when he described the types of conversations you should imagine yourself having when you type your views into a computer or mobile phone.

When typing an email, it’s a private conversation between you and the recipient.

When typing a Facebook post, it’s a chat down the pub with your mates – which could be overheard or shared.

When typing a tweet, it’s standing in the street with a megaphone, announcing your views to the world.

Twitter is that powerful. And unless what you are saying is something you’d be happy to shout at strangers in the street, remain tight-lipped. Twitter mistakes are not easy to come back from. And even deleting your tweet fails is unlikely to prevent an onslaught from those you have offended - who will no doubt have taken screengrabs of your tweets to share again and again.

But this is not like any one of your corporate social media fails. Eric Bristow is a 59-year-old man who argued his point vigorously with those who disagreed with him on Twitter.

The problem is, he is a brand. And he didn’t seem to realise that when committing these social media mistakes. He has since apologised for “miswording” his comments, although he has defended certain elements of what he has said.

A sports pundit who was awarded the MBE, prior to this outburst he was considered a national treasure and paid handsomely for personal appearances. So there is still a reputation to protect.

All that is now falling around his ears, after his ill-informed and offensive views worked to undo much of the social media marketing which served him well in the past.

This is likely to be a hard-learned lesson for the darts supremo. With his age and background in the very testosterone-fuelled world of darts, fans may forgive a slightly chauvinistic attitude.

But as social media mistakes go, he has committed many – by speaking on a taboo subject, arguing with those who disagreed with him and antagonising a large proportion of his fans.

Here are a few rules which every brand – be it a company or an individual – should follow to maintain a positive reputation and stay away from Twitter fails:

Turn a moan into a positive

Keep your rants and moans for your spouse/friend/colleague, and try to highlight the positive in any situation.

A company might feel like tweeting out “We’re swamped with online orders, so products may arrive late to customers.”

What they should put out is “Wow! Such a great response to our latest product launch. Working double time to get orders out. Bear with us guys.”

Stay away from taboo topics

If you are not involved, there is no need to comment on a scandal – particularly a sexual one. Likewise, avoid comment on emotive issues such as disability or mental health.

Try to keep in mind that unless you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes, you have no idea of their journey.

If pushed to comment on a situation, then keep it positive as detailed above.

For example, something along the lines of “I admire the bravery of all those living with mental health issues, and support the call for more health services in this sector.”

Avoid antagonising clients

Your football team may have been thrashed, or your political party has lost at the polls.

But many of those supporting your brand will have different allegiances.

By all means let rip to your nearest and dearest, but don’t explode on Twitter. Never underestimate how emotional your followers will be, or how quickly they can unfollow you.

Remain neutral, on issues of religion and politics in particular. And unless you’re cheering on the national football team, don’t reveal any loyalty to a local one.

Interact – but don’t argue

Join in conversations, to show there is a human behind the keyboard and help followers feel a connection to you. If they tweet about a charity event, or perhaps need help with fundraising, do a little retweeting to assist.

Twitter is a two-way street and followers will pick up quickly if you’re simply pushing your own agenda, or using a scheduling service to tweet because you’re never there.

If someone says something negative about you, don’t wade in. Think before you tweet.

If the tweet is offensive, and someone is trolling you, ignore at all costs.

If it’s a disgruntled customer, think carefully about how to reply and diffuse the situation. Remember the analogy of standing in the street with a megaphone. Everything you say is being listened to closely by other followers.

Avoid the hard sell

Your Twitter account is there to promote your brand, but avoid a string of “me, me, me” messages which will turn people away from the conversation.

By all means, plug your products or activities. But make these occasional tweets.

Twitter is a conversation, and nobody likes chatting to a self-promoting ego.


For help and advice on your social media presence, call 0800 612 9890.