13 Lessons To Help Companies Avoid -- Or Recover From -- Social Media Slip-Ups

April 10, 2019

For many companies, posting on social media is a flexible and powerful marketing tool—but it’s one that must be used wisely. Sometimes, an ill-considered tweet or questionable post appears in a company’s social media feed, there’s a corresponding social media backlash and suddenly the company is backtracking or apologizing in an effort to get back in the public’s good graces.

Whether the questionable post was a marketing misfire or the ill-considered brainchild of someone in the leadership team, it’s usually up to the communications team to sweep up the mess. It’s important to know how to handle social media misfires or, better still, avoid them altogether. To help, we asked members of Forbes Communications Council to weigh in on some of the biggest social media faux pas a company can make, how to avoid them and what to do about problematic posts.

1. Snowballing An Argument

Everyone makes mistakes, but many become defensive when they are called on it. While the urge to justify is understandable, don’t start arguing with people on social media. It will only make things worse—guaranteed. Resolving or apologizing for an issue is fine (and commendable). Otherwise, don’t get involved in the commentary. - Holly Chessman,GlowTouch Technologies

2. Not Staying Positive

It is obvious that a social media faux pas is posting something that could be seen as offensive to a person or a group of people. Avoid this by simply keeping the posts positive. Focus on the good things the company is doing or the positive ways that the products have helped people. Push others up. Highlight clients or customers. Direct your posts in a way that will make others feel and look good. –  Ellicia RomoPeoples Mortgage Company

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

3. Prescheduling Without Monitoring

Most organizations work off of a detailed editorial/content calendar and schedule everything ahead of time, which is optimal. However, you must monitor and keep tabs on what is scheduled and remember to edit or cancel it if it conflicts with events, world news, etc. There is nothing as insensitive as a brand posting a joking tweet when there is a national disaster or political firestorm. - Christina Hager, Overflow

4. Posting Personal Attacks Or Criticism

Kindness, not wit or snark, is a currency that can buy equity with followers. The biggest mistake companies can make on social media is to post personal attacks or criticisms of others. Regardless if another user is right, wrong or ridiculous, brands must never lose their professionalism. - Ryan George, 1st Global

5. Straying Off Message

Use your business goals and brand values as a framework for deciding if you should jump in. Ask yourself, “Is this aligned with our values? Does it support our mission? Is this conversation related to our customers or our industry?”  If you’re stretching to connect the narrative to your product or service, and if you wonder, “Is this funny or offensive?” stop typing. Robyn HannahDynamic Signal

6. Taking A Personal Stance From A Business Account

Social media is a place where people feel open to express their opinions and take a stance on their beliefs. However, some professionals use their business pages to inappropriately engage in online debates on politics, news or religion. It’s one thing to engage through your personal account, but the moment you start commenting from a business page, you risk tainting the image of your brand. - Antoine Bonicalzi, Cyberimpact

7. Not Vetting Shared Links

A huge mistake on social media for any company is not vetting the links you are sharing. If the link leads to the wrong place, such as somewhere that’s not safe for work or to a fake news site, it can damage your credibility and hurt your brand. Spend time checking into the sources and resources you are sharing on social media before going live with your tweet or post. - Kara Cowie, SkillPath

8. Not Having A Review Process

Corporate social posts and tweets should be treated like any other marketing materials. They need to be edited for concise, clear and relevant information that embodies the brand and spirit of the company. By maintaining a queue of social posts that are under review and approved, companies can avoid the pitfalls of a faux pas and ensure that all brand attributes are maintained with integrity. – MaryAnn Holder-BrowneOne Network Enterprises

9. Displaying Complete Ignorance

The biggest social media faux pas for a company is the display of complete ignorance. There’s a level of public knowledge that companies just need to have, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like death or certain political issues. To avoid a social media faux pas, company communicators need to educate themselves on current topics and know which public boundaries they simply cannot cross. – Jeff Grover, Best Company

10. Playing The Blame Game

When a “tweetastrophy” occurs, the worst thing a company can do is deflect blame to an employee or faulty process that caused the ill-advised message to be sent out. In the name of extreme ownership, take full responsibility for the mistake, apologize sincerely and explain the solution-based action steps the company will enact moving forward to ensure it won’t ever happen again. - Melissa Kandel, little word studio

11. Not Being Genuine About Your Apology

I think a lot of companies make the mistake of not actually being genuine about being sorry. Some make no effort to personally reach out to those they hurt or broke trust with. If you don’t do this, the long-term impact on your brand could be devastating. Some will reach out in the channel and leave it at that, but it needs to be deeper. Personally reach out, not just so everyone can see. - James Gilbert, CloudCherry

12. Ignoring The Elephant In The Room

Companies that avoid the elephant in the room after an ill-considered tweet or post seem irresponsible and immature about the severity of their mistake. Companies need to fully own social media mistakes, call out why it happened (“We shouldn’t have interns manage our account without proper guidance” or, “Our staff thought they were posting on their personal page”) and state the corrective action. – Brittany White, Apple Growth Partners

13. Not Understanding Social Media’s Impact On Branding

Companies are increasingly creating competition separation through branding as much as through products and services, which means that tweets and public posts that tarnish a brand’s reputation among its targeted audience can cause severe long-term damage. Brand communication teams must begin to build themselves into elite media companies complete with editorial talent and publication processes. – Cameron ConawaySolace

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

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