blue tweet and red delete buttons

For many companies, nearly every tweet involves a process aimed at making the post as perfect as possible — on brand, on message, and on target. A single 140-character statement gets input from the social media, marketing, design, and maybe even legal experts within your business.

But sometimes, even the best-laid plans go awry, and a tweet that shouldn’t be shared gets published. Your social media team is only human, after all, and even the most polished professionals occasionally make mistakes. What’s more, messaging and brand personality can change over time, so a tweet you made two years ago can now seem blatantly inappropriate. We got a visceral reminder in the news this month that even old tweets that shouldn’t have been made can resurface at the worst time.

Here a few ways to prevent rogue tweets from being published in the first place and what to do if one happens to fall through the cracks.

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Conduct a Twitter Audit

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As you hone your social media strategy, reviewing past tweets is a good starting place. After all, old tweets (with replies, favorites, and retweets) are part of the complete social DNA of your company. Determine which aspects represent the positioning and direction of your brand, and which aspects fall out of line.

Develop a Winning Strategy

The best protection a company can have against deleting tweets is a rock-solid strategy. It’s expected that aspects of your brand’s messaging might change over time. But that messaging should be built on a foundation of good behavior. Brands can use social media to experiment, and to be fun and edgy, but that should never veer into being insulting or hurtful.

Craft a Philosophy

Better safe than sorry: Err on the side of positivity, and make sure everyone is on the same page. When your team members are trying new things and new campaigns, they’ll always have a core philosophy to work from.

Get Everyone on Board

Once you have a strategy, have a plan to get your entire company on board with executing those high-level ideas. Educating the people who run your Twitter account about what you need from them, and why, can go a long way to prevent cases where a rogue tweet is published and then has to be taken down.

Should You Ever Delete a Tweet?

Although the process of deleting a tweet is simple (see instructions below), your social team should not be trashing posts left and right. Your Twitter feed should be a useful and fun resource for your followers. If you delete a post that they’d favorited or retweeted, then you’re hurting your own presence on the network. Plus, you don’t want to give the impression that your brand thinks it can just sweep mistakes under the rug.

Here are a few instances where deleting your Twitter posts are probably the right course of action. As with any social media issue, these are not hard-and-fast rules but rather general guidelines for most businesses in most industries.

Incorrect Information

This is probably the most common reason that tweets get removed. It could be a case of erroneous copy/paste, the final character getting left off a URL, misspelling the name of a major sponsor, or a typo in the date of your big clearance event. In order to make your Twitter feed useful for your fans and a source of pride for your partners, it’s best to remove the tweet with an error as soon as possible.

Make sure you have a plan for what errors will and won’t be considered for deletion. Something like a minor typo — such as typing “teh” instead of “the” — is small-fry in the grand scale of social media mistakes. The error might be embarrassing, but it’s debatable whether it warrants removal.

Private Content

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a high-profile Twitter user accidentally tweet something that was meant to be a private message. But be on alert. Tweets are public, and people will likely see them as representing both an individual and a company. Don’t overshare personal information in a public forum.

Keep in mind that private content might not just stem from a mistake about the format. Many businesses need to carefully guard information about their clients, their R&D, and their employees. Consider the following confidential information that should definitely be deleted right away:

  • Phone numbers
  • Social Security numbers
  • Home addresses
  • Email addresses
  • Banking information

Off-Message Tweets

Similar to privacy, another error that pops up is a tweet intended for somebody’s personal account appearing under an employer’s handle. These are tweets that have nothing to do with work and should be scrapped as soon as possible from the feed to avoid confusion.

In that vein, while many tweets go through approval from lots of people, sometimes your social team will want to make a spontaneous entry into real-time marketing tweets. This approach has a high likelihood of success when done with grace and tact, but occasionally going off the cuff leads to a tweet that’s a little too far removed from your core messaging. If they tweet something that’s potentially controversial or insulting in an effort to be funny and timely, then it’s better to cut your losses and delete the tweet.

How to Delete a Tweet

If you discover that an errant tweet has gone live, removing it is simple:

  • From the feed of your handle’s tweets, click on the one that’s headed for the trash.
  • In the bottom left corner of the tweet, you’ll see an ellipsis.
  • Click those three dots, then pick the final option, “Delete Tweet.”

If you’re on Twitter in a web browser, you can also see the ellipsis for more options directly from your feed, with no need to click through. In some third-party Twitter clients, though, you’ll need to navigate to the individual tweet in order to remove it.

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Think Before You Tweet

Whatever the reason, we can’t emphasize enough that deleting old tweets should not be a common occurrence. It will usually be most beneficial for your business and your followers to keep your complete social media record intact. But as we saw recently, if there are troubling posts in your past, somebody will find them. Even if they are removed, the potential to take screenshots and cache page versions mean that once something is posted, it will likely live forever.

Rather than plan to delete old posts that may not stand the test of time, set some ground rules within your company to keep all your tweets on the same page. Take advantage of the great tools available for social media teams; for example, Sprout Social’s Drafts function has an approval process aimed at preventing those rogue tweets from getting published in the first place.

Bottom line: The best philosophy any brand can have is to think before you tweet.