01.09.2013 PM’s Frost tweet highlights need to beware tone on social media

Early on Sunday morning news filtered through that legendary broadcaster Sir David Frost had died suddenly, aged 74, on board the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship during a speaking engagement the previous evening.


The legendary broadcaster will be remembered for his revealing interviews with former US President Richard Nixon.

As is now the norm, many friends, colleagues and those who Frost had inspired during his long and distinguished career as a comedian, journalist, TV presenter and interviewer took to Twitter to express their sadness and sorrow on the news.

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However within minutes of the news breaking the Prime Minister David Cameron’s official account tweeted: “My heart goes out to David Frost’s family. He could be – and certainly was with me – both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.”

On the face of it, this is a well intentioned message from the British political premier. However, Sir David’s sudden death had been caused by a suspected heart attack and so arguably it could have been better phrased as it could actually cause offence, and was somewhat insensitive at best.

I would suggest that the message should have been “My thoughts go out to David Frost’s family. He could be – and certainly was with me – both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.”

That way the message would have conveyed the right sentiment whilst avoiding any possible offence caused by Cameron sending ‘his heart out’ to a family who had just lost their husband and father when his heart had, technically, ‘given out’.

It might not be the biggest problem facing Mr Cameron in a week that saw him lose a defining Parliamentary vote on military intervention in Syria. But it once again highlights the care and attention leaders and brands alike need to devote to their social media presence.

One slip of the hand, or carelessly worded social media update, can have long term repercussions as many before Mr Cameron have learned.

Of course, we don’t believe for a minute that it’s Mr Cameron on the end of his Blackberry. And herein lies the lesson. If you have assigned an external agency or even an internal staff member to look after your social media accounts, then it is crucial that they are familiar with each platform, the etiquette involved, and are capable of dealing with any tricky or potentially sensitive situations.

When it comes to your own staff, this may require some robust training – and it’s well worth the investment.

As too many people and brands have learned, it’s too late to be sorry when things go awry.