Johns Hopkins learns the viral power of one bad social media decision


Even in this world of social media aggrandizement, this is almost unbelievable.

Johns Hopkins, one of America’s premier medical treatment and research institutions, brought to its knees by one employee’s random — if obnoxious — sports comment.

Have we gone too far yet?

The lesson for today is not that individuals will do stupid and insensitive things, or that fans — the diminutive of fanatics, after all — will rip opponents. It’s that in this era of social media, individuals and institutions cannot hide, and the consequences of that are immense.

The fan disparaged Baltimore Ravens’ receiver Torrey Smith’s performance against New England hours after his brother died in a motorcycle accident. She is apparently a rare bird, a Patriots fan living in Baltimore.

“Hey, Smith, how about you call your bro and tell him all about your wi— ohhhh. Wait. #TooSoon?” wrote Baltimore resident Katie Moody, posting as @katiebrady12, as Smith caught two touchdowns in the Ravens’ 31-30 win over the Patriots [Sunday]. The game and the Tweet came less than 24 hours after Smith’s younger brother Tevin Jones was killed in a motorcycle accident.

The fan’s Tweet was individual and personal. No ties to her employer — Johns Hopkins Medical School — were referenced or apparent. But soon enough the person who apparently sent the insulting tweet was discovered and outed and Hopkins decided it had better distance itself from its employee.

This is a warning to all. First, you’d better have a company social media policy and make sure everyone understands and signs it. And second, communications professionals and crisis managers have to be even better prepared for the oddest, most unpredictable problems conceivable.

Hopkins responded:

“Our deepest sympathies are with Torrey Smith and his family. The social media comment that made light of the Smith family’s loss represented the thoughts of one individual. It does not in any way represent the Johns Hopkins community,” said Dennis O’Shea, spokesman for Johns Hopkins, told the Baltimore Sun.

Having preached proactivity and a willingness to be transparent and sympathetic, if not apologetic, as quickly as possible, it’s hard to find fault with Hopkins’ decision. Stay on the side of the angels.

What’s stunning is that Hopkins was so concerned about one individual’s power to tarnish its nationally ranked reputation that it felt it had to respond, presumably, before anyone called for it.

We live in a Brave New World, indeed.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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