Seizing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

The Seattle Seahawks showed insensitivity by linking the team's dramatic comeback victory with the civil rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it shouldn't be an excuse for companies to avoid social media.

The Seattle Seahawks showed insensitivity by linking the team's dramatic comeback victory with the civil rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it shouldn't be an excuse for companies to avoid social media.

The Seattle Seahawks staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in NFL playoff history over the weekend. Then they blew it on Monday.

An over-ventilated person in the Seahawk PR department thought it would be great to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day and commemorate at the same time the team's never-give-up-hope victory. Clever idea. Bad decision.

The football team's Twitter account posted "We shall overcome" along with a picture of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson accompanied by King's famous "Take the first step in faith." Social media reaction was swift and slashing.

One tweet called it blasphemous to equate a football game victory to the civil rights struggle led by King.

The Seahawks responded quickly and smartly by removing the tweet and posting an apology admitting poor judgment. "We apologize for poor judgment shown in a tweet sent earlier. We did not intend to compare football to the civil rights legacy of Dr. King."

The episode is a further reminder than social media is not a parlor game. It is serious business, with serious consequences.

However well intended the Seahawks tweet was, it reflected the kind of poor judgment that usually results from a non-existent vetting system for social media posts. If a group of people had looked at and thought about the proposed post before it was published, a more mature judgment would have prevailed and it would have never seen the light of day.

The post also shows the hazards of newsjacking. To someone excited by the Seahawks comeback win, tying it to MLK Day seemed like a perfect way to extend the euphoria. Instead, it exposed a blind eye to the sensitivity that remains today as the nation celebrates King's role in the ongoing battle to win and keep civil rights. Football mattered on Sunday. Something else far greater mattered on Monday. 

Some jaded company officials will point to this example as the reason not to have a social media presence. They couldn't be more wrong. Companies need to share their voice on social media, as well as the real communities in which they operate. If nothing else, this level of engagement affords them a chance to see how their views measure up outside corporate headquarters.

An occasional slip-up, while regrettable and often avoidable, shouldn't be an excuse to dodge direct contact with the world through Twitter or any other social media platform.