Everyone on social media has had that moment, when they tweet or post something that they realize after the fact is wildly inappropriate, and they wish they could just delete everything and start over. For businesses, the consequences can be much more far-reaching.
On social media, your audience can be everyone.
When we talk content marketing, we often remind users to target their content very specifically. Content marketing works and does best in niche areas, bringing specific products to the attention of specific users.
It’s important to remember, though, that there is always the potential for your audience to suddenly become everyone. Remember the dentist who took pictures of himself after killing a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe? Perhaps his customers would have appreciated his vacation pictures, but the international community was not so forgiving. His business was crushed by the anger.
Lesson learned: while speaking directly to your audience is good, remember to avoid extremely controversial content like racial or gender based slurs. If you have content that is likely to be inflammatory in some way, look for a more private way to distribute it – but remember, the Internet is never really private.
Check and double check that you’re sending things where you meant to.
Last year, an employee at US Airways hit the wrong button, and instead of reporting a pornographic image of a woman with a toy airplane, tweeted it onto the company’s official account. The mistake went unnoticed for about 45 minutes, while the Twitterverse entertained itself by mocking the image and the company.
While this incident didn’t have any deeply lasting impact for US Airways, it did show the downside of having multiple employees with access to a company’s social media feeds. It certainly didn’t help the airline win any fans, and having your brand associated with social media failures isn’t a long-term winning business strategy.
Lesson learned: Always double-check before you hit the send button. If multiple employees have access to the company’s social media feeds, it might be a good idea to have an extra safeguard in place to ensure that everything posted is appropriate and matches branding.
Be careful of spelling, names, and identities when you’re posting.
Remember at the Oscars, when company Total Beauty misidentified Whoopi Goldberg as Oprah Winfrey? Twitter does, and users were furious, especially since the blunder plays into classic racist assumptions. It’s likely that the mistake was merely one of typing too fast and not double-checking an assumption of who the actress was, but the backlash was intense and lasted for hours (a feat, when there was so much else wrong with the Oscars this year!)
Lesson learned: If you aren’t sure that you’re using the right name, spelling, or fact, double-check. Ask someone else. Get it right. The Internet doesn’t have a delete button.
Don’t take advantage of trending hashtags as a company. Just don’t.
We’ve never seen this one end well. It seems like a great idea! Find a trending hashtag, make a relevant post, get your post seen by thousands! It doesn’t work out.
The latest company to learn that was DiGiorno. In response to the backlash against Janay Palmer for continuing to stay with her then-fiance Ray Rice, despite a video that appeared to show her abuse by him, abuse survivors created a hashtag #WhyIStayed, detailing the structural and emotional reasons why they had chosen not to leave abusive partners. DiGiorno tweeted “#WhyIStayed You had pizza,” at once appearing both insensitive and out of touch. Well done!
The company later apologized.
Lesson learned: If you’re going to try and capitalize on a trending hashtag, take a couple minutes to research the hashtag and learn what’s going on. Better yet, just don’t.
Here’s what you need to remember:
Social media is a powerful tool for your business, but like all powerful tools, you need to make sure that you’re using it with respect and with care. The rules for personal social media accounts and professional ones are very different, and you should make sure that you’re aware of what you’re saying before you’re saying it.
As a company, you want to react to things that are happening authentically and in real time, and that’s a powerful and useful instinct, but you also need to make sure that you’re doing things the right way. If you’re not sure what to do in a given moment, wait. Get some advice from an expert in social media before moving forward.
What is the biggest mistake you see companies making on social media?