Ashton Kutcher Twitter Scandal: 5 Steps to Handle a Social Media Crisis

by Eric Melin on November 10, 2011

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How do you handle a very public social media crisis?

Ashton Kutcher may not be a company, but he certainly is a brand. As an early adopter of Twitter who has over 8 million followers, you could say he has “reach.”

Last night, he tweeted something stupid and the Twitterverse went crazy:

“How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste”

He was referring to Penn State football coach Joe Paterno who was sacked in light of the sexual abuse scandal surrounding his former defensive coordinator. Instant social media crisis.

His followers inundated him with the full story of why Joe Paterno was fired, and Ashton Kutcher tweeted some more, most of which have since been deleted. From

After the initial Tweet and some of 8 million-plus followers told him what happened, Kutcher Tweeted, “Heard Joe was fired, fully recant previous tweet! Didn’t have full story. #admitwhenYoumakemistakes” and “Had no idea, thought it was a football thing” When one person replied to him “@aplusk where have you been the last three days!?”, he answered, “working.” Another person wrote, “@aplusk you’re an idiot,” Kutcher agreed.

The solution to this huge PR blunder?

Ashton Kutcher is turning over the management of his Twitter feed to his management.

This brings up some interesting points. What do you do when you have a social media crisis on your hands? These are the obvious steps:

1. Be listening so you know when a crisis happens.

2. Respond quickly and transparently.

3. Take responsibility if its your fault.

4. Continue to actively update.

5. Create multimedia responses (video, blogs, etc.) that tell you side of the story and spread them through key influencers and your networks.

This last step is key and illustrates why its important to have a network and strong relationships with the influential people in relation to your brand.

Ashton Kutcher was listening. He took steps 2 and 3 almost immediately. Unfortunately, after deleting some of the “discovery” tweets and the offending one, he stopped tweeting altogether.

He partially fulfilled number 5 and recommitted to number 3  by posting a blog to his Posterous account 9 hours after his last tweet that went into greater detail; more than 140 characters can say.

But it’s the decision going forward that I’m questioning.

It seems to me like this will directly impact the credibility of Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter feed because fans will know its not always him tweeting and that all tweets have been “approved” by someone else.

For celebrities, transparency is a really big deal. Sure, I’l follow a fan-club-run Twitter feed if I want to be updated on all of a celebrity’s upcoming projects and appearances, but a personal-run Twitter account is a glimpse behind the curtain of fame.

And sometimes, when you let content out without a filter, mistakes are bound to happen. What do you think? Is this the right thing for him to do? What challenges have you faced in the wake of a social media crisis? What can this teach us about using Twitter for business?


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