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In a moment I'm going to share with you a cock-up by one of my dear friends. Yes it was embarrassing and I am being a rat to my friend, but the good news is that she turned an embarrassing situation into gold. Keep reading.

We all make mistakes. Yep, and sometimes our instincts might tell us to hope it doesn't cause a problem or that no one will notice. After all the most elegant solution can be to do nothing as long as no one is hurt by our indiscretion.

But if "honesty is always the best policy" it's a good idea to front up and admit the problem, just because it's the right thing to do, and before someone notices or it causes harm.

In the world of new media where there is so much discussion about the risks of an open book, it's a policy we need to take seriously and enshrine in practice. Just as risk mitigation in the power-and-control world of traditional media often prescribed ways of actively avoiding risk – even after the event – new media encourages us to be honest and front-foot responses to mistakes quickly.

Why be quick and honest?

Entities survive and flourish because they can be trusted. People want them to be honest and front up when problems arise.

The interactive and electronic space is a very public and immediate place to be, and we have little control over it. But we can be mindful of the traps and control how we react and respond to inevitable situations.

Often the speed - with careful thought - and honesty of responses to bad situations is what's critical. In fact, getting an honest and fast message out in response to a mistake or problem can yield huge and unexpected dividends. This principle is seen time and again in numerous PR case studies. Here in Social Times, for example, is a case study and 4 Reasons JetBlue Nailed Their Social Media Response To Crazy Flight Attendant.

As noted where these situations and responses arise, the quick, considered and honest response pays extraordinarily heavy dividends for the wrong-doer. But it's not sufficient to simply wait for a misdemeanour and then luxuriate in the "putting right" because that will ultimately run out of road as well. An honest response must be backed up with actions that demonstrate you're true to your word.

My friend's story – a small case study in fast and disarming honesty

My friend Susan, at the Fundraising Institute (FINZ), does a great job in keeping members informed about FINZ affairs, and lots else besides. Regular emails flow from her desk, which she believes people are reading and benefiting from.

Last Friday she busily prepared her latest email and hit the 'SEND' button before she'd had a chance to gather her thoughts and check the email thoroughly. At that moment she realised there was no way to retrieve the email and fix the errors.

Susan immediately prepared a follow up email. It contained all the good things an apology email should – it acknowledged a mistake and in making it human and personal, she immediately defused a problem.

A point to note from Susan's follow up email is her use of humour to help the situation. In some cases this might be seen as frivolous and unnecessary when an error has been made, but this was not a serious misdemeanour and in this case it was an indication of familiarity between the writer and her audience.

So from an embarrassing situation Susan turned it around to become a positive situation. What's the proof? Generally Susan receives only a hand-full of responses to her regular emails but, on this occasion, within only a few hours Susan had received more than 70 emails, all of which were appreciative or very positive.

Read Susan's email response here.


About the author

Fraser Carson is a respected communications and social media consultant, and commentator. He has particular experience and interest in community building, the not-for-profit sector and business development.

Be sorry and do it quick - PR rewards for cock-ups

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