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Secret Service starts Twitter account, stumbles

Just nine days after starting an official (and verified) Twitter feed, the U.S. Secret Service had a pretty public gaffe that most professional social media managers have experienced (or feared) at some point or another. As reported by ABC News and other outlets, a staffer accidentally tweeted something meant for a personal account.

The department commented on the slip to ABC's Jake Tapper:

“An employee with access to the Secret Service’s Twitter account, who mistakenly believed they were on their personal account, posted an unapproved and inappropriate tweet,” Special Agent in Charge Edwin M. Donovan said in a statement to ABC News. “The tweet did not reflect the views of the U.S. Secret Service and it was immediately removed. We apologize for this mistake, and the user no longer has access to our official account."

Donovan also mentioned that “policies and practices which would have prevented this were not followed and will be reinforced for all account users."

There have been a number of such gaffes that have made headlines, including a marketing agency employee who mistakenly tweeted on behalf of @ChyslerAutos:

That tweet lead cost the marketing firm its contract, and the employee his job.

Social account management/posting tool provider HootSuite took notice of the incident and added a new “double-check” feature to their service to help eliminate “posted to the wrong account” errors (kind of like Google Mail Goggles for social media accounts).

Unfortunately, the feature is reserved for "enterprise users" and not available for free or pro accounts, a policy Hootsuite should change, as many organizations would pay for the safeguarding feature as a stand-alone upgrade.

Mistakes happen, and I hope the experience and growing coverage doesn't deter the Secret Service from continuing to experiment with Twitter. In fact, the news may have inadvertently jumped-started interest in their Twitter feed, which has garnered nearly 22,000 followers in less than two weeks. It now sits at the 51st spot in GovTwit for U.S. agency Twitter feeds.

Ultimately, the incident is simply a good reminder to always double-check before posting to a brand or agency account you may help manage, and perhaps it may pay to research use of tools like Hootsuite to help eliminate the possibility for such errors.

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Tags: GovTwit, budgeting, communications, leadership, tech

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Comment by Terrence (Terry) Hill on May 22, 2011 at 7:30am
I'm just glad to see that the Secret Service is now on Twitter.  It gives me hope.  If you didn't bring it up, I don't think many people would have noticed, since they don't have too many followers and this posting was removed.  To err is human and to forgive is divine.  We all need to be forgiving of others' imperfections.
Comment by Charles A. Ray on May 22, 2011 at 4:15am
Stuff happens.  One of the things agencies have to realize when they launch social media initiatives, is that mistakes will be made, but they're usually not fatal.  It helps if staff are part of the launch and are thoroughly briefed on what is and is not appropriate.
Comment by Nancy Heltman on May 20, 2011 at 8:28pm
Thankfully my personal mishaps have all been reply tweets for accounts I follow for work and personal. Seesmic tries to guess what you want to do but following the same accounts can confuse it. Since I do social media in addition to everything I used to do, my early Twitter work was mostly done in the evenings. Whenever I replied from the wrong account I always said - must be time to go home!
Comment by Christopher Whitaker on May 20, 2011 at 8:11pm
If I end up being tagged as my agencies social media guide, this is fear #1. I'm glad Hootsuite has a "double-check" feature, but I almost wouldn't want to put both accounts on there. I wouldn't want to spook anyone with some politically charged tweet!
Comment by Dannielle Blumenthal on May 20, 2011 at 6:06pm
All publicity is good publicity in an information overload society...unless you're Former Gov Schwarzenegger or the IMF.
Comment by Andrew Krzmarzick on May 20, 2011 at 4:27pm

I used to try to post as @krazykriz and @govloop, especially when Steve was on travel just to keep the personal interaction flowing. After the third time of posting to the wrong account, I gave it up.  :-)

Comment by Stephanie Slade on May 20, 2011 at 9:16am
Here's another example... this one brought the organization a lot of good will! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/16/red-cross-rogue-tweet_n_82...
Comment by Sterling Whitehead on May 20, 2011 at 8:58am

Wow. The Chrysler tweet is just hilarious.

Comment by Steve Lunceford on May 19, 2011 at 9:35pm
Jeff, when you manage multiple accounts it can happen more often then you think, and by accident. HootSuite, CoTweet, TweetDeck and even the Twitter for iPad app (which was used in this SS case) all allow you to be signed in to multiple accounts simultaneously.
Comment by Jeff Ribeira on May 19, 2011 at 4:39pm
Yikes. That's quite the mishap, but like you said, hopefully it won't deter the SS and other agencies to stop pushing their social media efforts forward. What I don't get though is how does this even happen? It's really not that difficult to figure out who you're signed in as. Blatant irresponsibility and a lack of common sense are my only explanations...

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