Sure, there’s a delete button on your keyboard. But just like in real-life, you can’t really erase an embarrassing tweet on Twitter. Of course, you can technically do this, but once you hit “Tweet”, it’s out there, and it’s sure hard to get people to un-read it.

There were two high-profile cases of Twitter faux pas in the news in recent weeks, and they each illustrate polar opposite reactions to regrettable tweets. So if you’re struggling with a PR disaster because of an inappropriate tweet, just remember that you’re not alone. Celebrities, spokespeople and massive corporations have all landed themselves in hot water because of a tweet, and they’ve struggled with the repercussions.

Keeping it Classy: The Red Cross

In mid-February, the official Red Cross account tweeted a rather embarrassing tweet about getting “slizzerd” with some Dogfish Head’s beer.

Not cool, not classy. And especially not good coming from the Red Cross.

However, with tweets like this, it’s all about the recovery. Rather than delete the tweet and try to brush everything under the rug (including the employee), the Red Cross took it in stride. They did delete the tweet, but they also wrote a blog post explaining why, and what happened.

The employee who penned the offending tweet was clearly aiming to tweet from his or her personal account, but mistakenly posted to the Red Cross account from a Twitter dashboard (HootSuite, in this particular instance). But he or she wasn’t fired – instead, the Red Cross spun this incident into a positive one, by laughing at itself and acknowledging the fact that behind all businesses and organization are just a group of people.

Gasping and Overreacting: Chrysler

Now, not everyone will agree with me when I say that Chrysler overreacted to the f-bomb that made an appearance on its official Twitter account this week. But it did.

The story is this: the official Chrysler posted the following tweet this week:

The company deleted the tweet, like the Red Cross, and also wrote up an official response. But rather than gracefully noting the human fallibility present in large organizations and amplified by social media, Chrysler apologized – in very stiff, corporate language – and fired the employee responsible.

How should you handle a regrettable tweet?

Social media is part of “new media” for a reason. You can’t approach social media marketing the same way you would an ad on TV or in a newspaper. Top-down reactions like Chrysler’s appear unyielding and overly harsh, while the Red Cross comes off as understanding and likable.

Of course, the situations aren’t identical, but they’re close enough to make some comparisons and learn a lesson or two.

First, take a deep breath and think about how you want to react to a bad tweet. Deleting it is definitely an option, like both the Red Cross and Chrysler chose to do, but if you do, you might want to acknowledge that you did so. Otherwise, you will lose the trust of your followers. And, considering the instant nature of Twitter, any offending tweet will likely be retweeted pretty quickly, so deleting it won’t completely erase it from the Twitterverse.

Second, assess the damage. The Red Cross had to deal with an employee tweeting about getting drunk, and Chrysler had to deal with a curse word. Both bad situations, but not the end of the world. However, your brand has a certain image, and everything you tweet either works to help or hinder that. If your business is something like MADD and you posted the Red Cross tweet, you might be in hot water.

Your next step is to react. Whether you want to just tweet a 140-character apology and retraction, blog about it, offer compensation to anyone offended, or go the more creative route and make a marketing campaign around, for instance, anti-road rage as Chrysler could have done, you need to do something to rectify a regrettable tweet.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a black-and-white rulebook on how to react to Twitter mistakes. You’ve got to know your brand, your followers, and the message you’re trying to convey, and understand just how much damage your mistake caused. And you’ve got to remember that when it comes to social media, a realm of instant information, informality and close connections, people are usually pretty forgiving if you make a “human” mistake and own up to it.