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Don’t Make a Fatal Social Media Mistake

Posted On: December 27, 2013

Social media can be a powerful tool in marketing your business, building your brand and authority, and cultivating a strong repeat customer base. However, when employed without care, social media can also be incredibly damaging. Just one big misstep can be crushing to your company’s reputation.

Remember, once you post something online — whether it’s a tweet, Facebook update, blog post, or comment — it’s out there for good. Even if you delete it, whatever you wrote can be unearthed very quickly. Just like the carpenter’s creed — measure twice, cut once — it’s essential to double-check what you’re about to publish before you submit it.

Recently, the Home Depot got in trouble for a college football-related tweet in which a man in a gorilla suit sat between two black students, all three drumming on buckets. The tweet read, “Which drummer is not like the others?”

Obviously, the company — or more specifically, the person tweeting for the company — never intended to post something that could be interpreted as having racial overtones. But just as obviously, it was interpreted that way by many.

There are many other examples, including tone-deaf tweets by businesses following the Boston Marathon bombings and the movie theater shooting during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. This has become more common as businesses try to employ humorous or edgy tones in social media. That’s fine, but posters need to know where the line is and not to cross it.

Other blunders have occurred when people who tweet on behalf of a company accidentally tweeted under that account, instead of their own personal account. Here are some things to remember to avoid running into problems:

Regularly review what’s being posted by your company: If you do your own tweeting and posting, you know what you’re putting out there. If an employee or contractor handles it for you, regularly review what’s being published.

Make sure whoever manages your social media knows to run a post past you if there’s any possibility whatsoever the post could be misconstrued. If you’re just starting with a new social media manager, it’s a good idea to vet everything before it’s published for a while — at least until you trust this person’s judgment completely.

A second set of eyes: Similarly, if you’re too busy to oversee everything being posted on behalf of your company, it’s a good idea to have a second person review anything before it’s posted.

Perhaps you could have a two-person team with each person reviewing the other’s posts and tweets before they’re published. If one tends to push the envelope a bit, ensure the other is a bit more conservative: they should be able to find a comfortable balance. When they disagree on whether something’s appropriate, you can cast the tiebreaking vote. (But if you’re not sure, be smart: just don’t post it.)

If you’re promoting something, be open about it: Failure to be transparent can cause a massive backlash on social media. People hate the feeling of being deceived, and when regular Twitter users in particular get up a head of steam, they can unleash hell on your business. Feel free to promote a special or product in a fun way, but be absolutely clear that it’s a promotion.

Keep an eye on breaking news and be careful about prescheduled tweets: The day of the Colorado shooting, a twitter account associated with the National Rifle Association tweeted “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”
This tweet was autoscheduled — written earlier and scheduled to automatically publish at a time when many people would be on Twitter — so this was not intentional but a matter of unfortunate timing. Still, the issue could have been prevented by simply reviewing all tweets on the day they’re set to go out.

Stay away from current events with tragic/negative elements: This should be obvious, but to some tweeters who lack taste, it’s not. One company promoted a product named “Aurora” on the heels of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting, which is mind-boggingly stupid. The company claimed it didn’t know why “Aurora” was trending, which brings up another key point: Never ride the coattails of a trending topic if you’re not sure what it is.


If you screw up, apologize immediately: As soon as Home Depot became aware of the gorilla drummer tweet (posted by a contracted agency), it had the tweet deleted and apologized. It quickly followed up by firing the agency behind the tweet and posting that fact. This reassured people that Home Depot did not condone such a clueless post and immediately took steps to keep something like that from recurring.

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