Did the Rockets Really Need to Fire Their Comms Chief?

Yes, the joke was kind of dumb. But was it really a fireable offense?

You probably saw the story yesterday about the not-quite-classy joke made by the head of digital comms for the Houston Rockets on Twitter during Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

houston rockets

You probably also heard that the team apologized and that Chad Shanks got fired by the Rockets org as a result:

Shanks spoke to Adi Joseph of Sporting News yesterday, saying:

“I was a little bit older than most starting this type of job, but they said they hired me because they trusted someone a little older and more educated to not do anything reckless (and we see how that turned out).”

That interview is a must-read as Shanks details the nature of his responsibilities managing the account:

“I know several other teams’ social media managers and we would discuss ways we can interact when we’re playing each other because the fans love when teams go back-and-forth. Some posts were carefully planned out, a lot are spur of the moment impulses based on what’s happening in the game. I had an impulse toward the end of the game last night and should’ve resisted it.”

In other words, he did what works based on past experience; this is a classic case of pushing just a little too hard to be edgy. At the same time, though, we all know that “engagement” is the key word in social and that the very worst thing to be is boring.

As Shanks himself put it:

“There’s no real rulebook for this stuff…It’s a never-ending tightrope walk.”

Yes, the joke went too far in the eyes of the public…but we’re talking about professional sports here, people. Fierce rivalries between teams are the lifeblood of the industry.

Shanks has a final piece of advice: try to see social media through the eyes of everyone who isn’t you rather than amusing yourself on a public-facing account.

Lots of people seem to think the team should bring Shanks back:

Here’s the thing, though: brands can’t have it both ways.  Either you’re edgy or you’re stodgy. Either you improvise or you write Tweets By Committee that inspire nothing but radio silence.

We obviously can’t speak for the Rockets…but we will say that, when assigning someone to a job that demands the constant application of well-timed snark, executives will need to be a little more forgiving.

Otherwise, these sorts of headlines will grow more and more common. And we don’t think anyone wants that.