In theory, social media ought to be so simple. It’s a conversation, a chance to reach your customers on a personal level by being part of a dialogue and showing that there are real, live people behind the flashy branding.
Yet there are so many ways to get it wrong. The consequences of a social media screw-up can range from minor incidents to a full-blown corporate crisis, bad press, and millions in lost revenue. Clearly, you have to operate with caution.
Thankfully, other businesses have already shown the corporate world what not to do on social media, whether through bad luck, poor timing, or downright terrible decision-making.
Here’s a roundup of 13 social media blunders you’ll want to avoid at all costs.
1. Go in Without a Plan
Social is a great opportunity, and any digital marketer worth his or her salt will tell you that you ought to be involved. But in all that excitement, don’t jump head-first. If you want to keep things cost-effective, conversational, and controversy-free, it pays to spend some time outlining your strategy and tailoring your approach. You want to know:
- Who are we trying to reach?
- What platforms are they on? (You don’t need to be everywhere!)
- When are they most active?
- Who will manage our accounts?
- What will we share? What won’t we share?
As a business, you’re also going to want to develop clear documentation and policies surrounding who you are online as well as what’s appropriate and what’s not, so that anyone handling your accounts is clear from day one.
Some people take this too far, refusing to even get involved with social media until they feel like everything is predictable and there’s no risk at all.
Spoiler alert: That day will never come.
Social media is an open conversation not a closed environment. Anything can (and likely will) happen. But, if you’re prepared, you can deal with whatever comes your way and avoid the pitfalls others have found themselves in.
The best advice might be to know the hazards and plan to avoid them — then, step off the edge and enjoy the rush!
2. Automate Everything
Automation has been touted as a lifesaver for busy businesses. There’s no denying that there are some tremendous benefits to automating parts of your social experience, like sharing your best content during peak hours or notifying account managers when new brand mentions are made.
But you are a business, not a robot.
Automation is great for cutting down on menial tasks, but it’s horrible for genuine engagement. You want to be actively responding to your followers and fans, not just running on autopilot.
Automating without a personal touch will also lead to all kinds of problems, including:
- Annoying new followers with automated welcome messaging. As a rule, never, ever automate direct messages, and don’t “Welcome” every new follower. It’s tacky, annoying, and comes across insincerely when your feed is full of such messages.
- Tweeting updates that appear insensitive/oblivious during times of crisis.While British grocery chain Tesco was embroiled in a crisis surrounding horse meat in its products, the company’s autobot tweeted a pre-planned message saying they were going to “hit the hay.” The company had to take out advertising to apologize for the blunder.
- Improper responses/incorrect sentiment analysis.Domino’s Pizza got attention for all the wrong reasons when its autobots responded to customer compliments by apologizing.
3. Delete Negative Comments
Nothing comes across more insincere than trying to censor the conversation about your brand. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, use negative comments and tweets as a chance to learn, showcase your customer service, and put your values on display. Address the issue and maintain an open conversation. Ignoring the issue or trying to hide the problem will destroy customer trust.
That said, it’s OK to remove tweets that are deeply offensive (racist, sexist, and personal insults all fall in that category). If you can, explain the removal and your policies so your fans aren’t left wondering.
4. Break Brand Voice
Your brand’s values and personality need to be maintained everywhere you communicate. While social media is a great place to let your hair down a bit and have more relaxed conversations, the values at the core of your brand shouldn’t change with the medium.
Shift tone to situations, but don’t start speaking a different language or trying to be the class clown if it’s out of line with your other branding.
A presence is a promise. Followers will expect you to engage simply because you have an account, and the moment you step onto social media you need to be prepared to share and respond.
The Web is littered with abandoned accounts and brands that have dropped the ball. It makes you look outdated, out of touch, and uncaring to the concerns of those trying to contact you. Make sure you have a long-term strategy from day one and that you’ve given whomever is managing the account enough time and direction to keep things fresh and up to date.
6. Forget to Fact Check
Online, things happen fast. There’s a tendency to want to leap right into a conversation, share a new article, or start using a hashtag almost as quickly as you come across it. But failing to fact check can have unintended consequences.
- Check the hashtag.
Entenmann’s learned this the hard way when it used the hashtag “#notguilty” in a tweet about eating tasty treats, apparently unaware that the reason the hashtag was trending in the first place was because of the Casey Anthony murder trial verdict.
- Read the article first. A tweet, like, share, or mention will be taken as an endorsement. Before your brand throws its support behind a piece, read it to be sure you agree with everything that’s been said. In a similar story, Jenny Craig came under fire from its fans when it supported a radio show notorious for sexist comments.
- Don’t stop monitoring. You could be missing out on conversations happening about your brand then look oblivious when you chime in with something that doesn’t fit the conversation.
7. Fake It
We all love a good shortcut, don’t we? Businesses are always looking for ways to make things more efficient and reach their goals earlier.
With social media, though, there are no shortcuts. Faking engagement is a recipe for disaster. Social media is about authentic interaction, and nothing is quite as inauthentic as buying friends.
- Don’t buy followers/fans/likes/shares. There are thousands of online vendors willing to push you “5,000 followers for $5!” Don’t be tempted. These are usually dummy accounts and networks of autobots. Even when they ARE real people, you’ve got to wonder how tuned in your audience will be if they’ve signed up for these mass sharing programs. Slow and steady wins the race; cultivate true fans not a follower count.
- Don’t set up fake accounts. You can be anybody you want to be online, but that doesn’t mean you should be. Brands have been known to set up fake accounts to either sing their own praises or come to their own defense in conversations on places like Reddit. There’s a good chance you’ll be sniffed out — and by then, you’ve doubled the damage.
8. Feed the Trolls
Here’s a lesson you’ll need to learn quickly: No matter who you are, how pleasant you might be, or how noble your cause, there will always be an Internet troll bent on getting under your skin.
To be clear: These are not just disgruntled customers or people with legitimate concerns. Trolls are always on the prowl for things to tear down and ways to get a rise out of you. They’ve even been classified as psychopaths and sadists by some psychologists. No response at all may be the best response, as the troll will only feed off of your frustration. Walk away and avoid becoming entangled in a flame war.
9. Outsource Indiscriminately
Let’s make this perfectly clear: What you say on social media will be taken as who your brand is. Your words and communications are what will come to define you in the minds of consumers.
Do you really want to outsource that to the lowest bidder?
Outsourcing social media services is a reality for many brands, but it’s critical that you put your reputation in capable hands:
- Choose someone who knows your brand inside and out. The person behind the keyboard should have been involved in creating your social media strategy.
- Stay connected. Ensure you have open and easy lines of communication with whoever is managing your accounts, and touch base regularly to discuss their approach.
- Never surrender complete control. Always maintain access to your accounts so that someone can respond in the event of a crisis or a social media consultant gone rogue.
- Think trust, not cost. As you consider your many options, don’t go for who is cheapest — go for who is best.
10. Be a Negative Nancy
Nobody likes a downer. While sarcasm and snark may legitimately be a part of your brand’s voice and tone, be careful not come across like a social Eeyore with nothing positive to say.
That doesn’t mean you need to be all rainbows and sunshine, but temper what you share and don’t be a jerk. Never, ever make things personal or attack an individual.
Social is your brand ambassador, and you never want to be seen as a company that goes on the attack or flames the community.
11. Mix Business With Pleasure
Some of the greatest social media bungles arise from one of two simple mistakes:
- Drinking while engaging
- Mixing personal and business accounts
While the dangers of drinking and social media are pretty obvious (as made abundantly clear by a drunken tirade from a former PayPal exec), the second point is a common and deadly mistake.
There are dozens of stories of tweets intended for personal accounts accidentally sent to business ones, including bungles that saw Chrysler dropping an f-bomb and the Red Cross looking a little too excited for the weekend.
Even if it sounds paranoid, try not to mix corporate and personal accounts under the same management platforms. If you use Hootsuite for business, use the plain ol’ Twitter app or another management platform for your personal engagement unless you’re positive you’ll never suffer a slip of the thumb.
12. Engage in Insensitive Newsjacking
From trying to use a shooting to market a fashion line to turning an earthquake in Japan into a marketing opportunity, even companies with good intentions can find themselves on the end of serious criticism for their responses to major world events.
When tragedy strikes, respond like a human being — not a business. Offer your condolences and show you’re aware of the event — then back off. This is not a moment to try and make light of the situation or earn market share.
It should be the most obvious one on this list, but sadly, spamming followers is rather common on corporate social media accounts. As I’ve reiterated over and over again, social media is a conversation — and even when it’s happening on your own accounts, it’s not all about you.
If the only content you’re sharing is your own or all of your tweets are referencing your business, you’re boring customers to death and acting like a big marketing megaphone. That’s a fast way to get tuned out.
Conversations go both ways — so have something more to say!
A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
Reading some of these horror stories might make you nervous enough to avoid social altogether, but don’t. The truth is social media ought to be incredibly simple. With some foresight and common sense, you can turn social media into a lucrative channel. But more importantly, you can put a human spin on a corporate brand and endear yourself to an ever-growing audience.
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