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It’s Christmas Eve. Some of you will be offline and away from your Twitter account for stretches of time between now and 2014.

Do you know where your tweets are?

There will be lots of merriment and drinking. How prepared would you be if you stumbled into a full-on Sacco? Do you have a social media early-warning system set up to warn you if a crisis is mounting against you, your brand, your company? Have you given someone who is online access to your profiles so you can either fly by wire remotely in absentia or allow your trusted surrogate to engage on your behalf while you’re away or in-dispose.

@JustineSacco: Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

Everyone’s talking about what Justine Sacco should — and should not — have done with regards to the tweet heard around the world last week. There are big long crisis response and reputation management lists that some very smart people are sharing all over the blogosphere, none of which would really have helped in this case.

The Internet then piled on, initially amongst the world of communications and PR, then to the world of A-list tech and media, then, finally, to CNN, Forbes, ABC News, et al.

Crisis management is mostly about quick and early containment

IAC/InterActiveCorp Headquarters Building, by ...

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In short, outside of tweeting what she tweeted (it happens), Justine Sacco, communications director of IAC, should have handed the keys of her social media properties off to someone she trusted, someone who has the authorization, access, and authority to speak on her behalf and on behalf of InterActiveCorp. Full stop. The tweet might have been forgiven. It was the lack of authentic, deep, and passionate contrition — a heart-felt mea maxima culpa — that came quickly and personally, that resulted in the global madness, the piling on, that came about in Justine’s — anyone’s, everyone’s — absence.

Social media surrogate, baby sitter, dog walker, nanny, au pair

And, in her absence, her trusted surrogate could have at least put a name, a face, and a plea for a little time, a little patience, until Ms. Sacco arrived in Cape Town International Airport and got back online herself. It would have also allowed her parent company, IAC, to address the growing global Internet unrest, even if that were taking the opportunity to apologize on her behalf or even to distance themselves from her words and behavior.

And, let’s be honest, her words were appalling. I am, in no way, being a Justine Sacco apologist. I am, however, saying that we people are chaotic, messy, and live in bubbles. We make what we think are small, stupid mistakes without realizing that the Internet transcends bubbles, class, location, geography, language, politics, and even tone.

The assumption that someone who has the earned position as head of communications for a company with a revenue of $2.8 billion in 2012 should know better surely didn’t work well in her favor. justine-sacco-photos-5Add to all of this Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and a slow news day . . .

Social media are the neediest of pets

Social media are like pets: they can never be left unattended. While Facebook and Pinterest are like pet cats and Google+ is like a pet turtle, Twitter is like owning a pet dog.

While there’s no real industry around cat- or turtle-walking services, dogs have dog-walkers, dog-boarding, doggy daycare, dog-training, and dog-grooming.

That’s Twitter.

Walkies! Walkies!

The big mistake that Justine Sacco made before she took off for an eleven-hour flight to visit her South African family for the holidays in Capetown was not handing over the leash of her Twitter account to at least one trusted colleague before she left.

It’s true: we all make mistakes. Justine Sacco isn’t a terrible person, especially for being the daughter of a billionaire, working for a company that oversees the most ribald and inappropriate comedic web properties on the planet (including College Humor), and being a member of the Jet Set who pops effortlessly between London, Capetown, and New York.

Besides, she only had a couple-hundred followers on Twitter when all of this started, right? And, she’s just sort of like this. Her sense of humor has always been not only edgy but bombastic.

Who’s Justine Sacco? Good question

Justine-SaccoQuick briefing: Justine Sacco, Director of Communications at Barry Diller‘s IAC (InterActiveCorp), was off to visit her dad and family in Capetown from London on an 11-hour flight; but, before taking off, she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” to her 200 followers at @JustineSacco. So, off she flies. Then, according to Buzzfeed’s post-mortem of the entire event, “someone emailed [the tweet] to Valleywag editor Sam Biddle, who told BuzzFeed. He published a brief item about three hours after it was sent.” Then, a firestorm, including a global trending hashtag, #HasJustineLandedYet, started by @GoodGirlRoxy. And, for 11-hours, not a peep from Ms. Sacco. She was defenseless.

It’s not that she wasn’t contrite, it’s just that she was off the grid.

Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, South Africa, AIDS crisis

However, the pump was primed right after the loss of Nelson Mandela. After losing Madiba, the conversation turned to pre- and post-Apartheid. The emotion surrounding race, wealth, resources, access, health, rape, and HIV/AIDS couldn’t have been more of a powder keg and Justine Sacco walked right into it.

And, it happens.

Something similar has happened to all of us in one form or another. Most of the time, it is contained to the PR and communications industry; however, this was the most perfect of storms. Everyone’s eyes are on South Africa in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing and funeral. Now, more than ever, discussions of race and class are peculating. Add to that issues of healthcare, disease, and the scourge of AIDS on not only South Africa but the African Continent (and the Globe) and you have a very heavy moral load.

And, alas, Justine was the final straw. By the time the plane landed, it was too late.

Like any disease, an immediate diagnosis is essential. The quicker the better. An early diagnosis can often-time result in a complete recovery. Undiagnosed or ignored, even if unintentionally or by mistake, disease can fester and kill.

Justine was fired by IAC not long after she arrived in Cape Town — and I am certain the decision was made in absentia.

We’re entering the holidays now. Lots of us are going to be offline for Christmas and New Years, many of us will be pulled away from our social media profiles by travel and family. Do you have a plan?

Do you have someone to get your back while you’re away? Does someone have access to your login and password? Is someone tracking your online reputation while you’re away? If not, mostly likely, nothing will happen; however, as has been proven, someone can go from being a successful PR executive to being a global pariah in only 11 hours.

Are you prepared?

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Chris Abraham

About Chris Abraham

A pioneer in online social networks and publishing, with a natural facility for anticipating the next big thing, Chris is an Internet analyst, web strategy consultant and advisor to the industries' leading firms. He specializes in Web 2.0 technologies, including content syndication; organize search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), content marketing, online collaboration, blogging, and consumer generated media.

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