A Business Owners Guide to Social Media Etiquette
Social media is one of those rare forms of communication that can make or break a company’s reputation in an instant. It’s important to have systems in place to prevent against potential errors that may be hazardous to your brand image. Whether you’re working with an in-house social team or a small business attempting some DIY social, here’s a short guide to help you avoid social media blunders.
Insulting the Customer. Don’t do this, ever. Seems like an obvious one, right? Being rude is a great way to have a major PR scandal on your hands, and once that happens, your ability to quell it will be almost zero. Many companies have gone the worst kind of viral for this reason, and it can end up costing thousands to millions in revenue due to boycotts, bad press, or permanent damage to brand reputation. In October of 2014, this was precisely the lesson learned by Hawke & Co., a US based clothing firm. When one of their customers criticized them for poor customer service via Twitter, Hawke & Co. made the terrible choice of responding with insult.
Although the team attempted to remove the tweet, it had already been screen captured and picked up by the masses. Hawke & Co. continued to respond without apology in a semi-flippant tone, eventually chalking it up to a “social experiment”. Needless to say, the continued failure to own up to their poor choices kept feeding the negative press machine.
Own It. If you goofed, apologize. Go the additional mile to ensure your apology is seen and received. Let your community know you’re taking steps to prevent the incident from happening again. Not apologizing doesn’t mean that you’re being strong, it can come off as arrogant and alienating. You’ve spent so much time turning your entity into a ‘brand’, giving it a human voice, personality, and bringing it to life. Try to retain as much of that as possible by letting people know you really care.
Hashtag Hijacking. It’s really tempting as a brand to look for trending hashtags and utilize them in clever ways to broaden your reach, but tread cautiously and do your homework. It’s completely possible to latch on to the wrong hashtag to promote your company. In September 2014, DiGiorno made headlines with a major error that even now, still has them responding with apologies. When the pizza company tried to be clever by jumping onto the #WhyIStayed trending hashtag, they should have taken the extra 10 seconds to see why it was trending.
Little did they realize the hashtag had been trending to support women who suffered domestic violence. This social media blunder could have been easily prevented. That said, the company has been incredibly responsive since the event, and has taken the time to respond directly to each message they receive referencing the event. That sounds like a ton of additional time used towards damage control, so remember to research before publishing.
Keeping It Clean. Even if you want to look edgy, profanity is not always a wise choice. It can look unprofessional and unintelligent. Find creative ways to gain attention and you won’t have a need to blow up your social by dropping F-bombs.
A Laughing Matter. Never joke about serious subjects. Making light of rape, murder, or the wrong social issues can seriously offend and upset people. By diminishing serious issues, you risk alienating your audience. Similar to mistakenly using the wrong hashtag, using right hashtag in a distasteful way can lead to a severe backlash.
This was so far from the mark. Humor is a great social tool when used correctly, but there’s an indiscernible grey area when it comes to an individual’s sense of humor. If you’re taking a stab at it, make sure you know your audience and craft your words carefully. Similarly, if it’s a highly controversial subject matter, it might be best left avoided.
Feeding the Troll. From time to time, people will try to push your buttons to gain a reaction. This is the art of trolling. If someone trolls you on social media, flat-out insults your company, or just tries to make you look stupid, don’t react emotionally. If you do, you’ll be falling into their trap and will end up doing more harm to your company than good. Instead, use humor and present facts in a non-aggressive way to combat any trolling comments. Laugh it off and promise to improve your work.
Opening the Flood Gates. If your brand is eager to run with a new campaign or start a new social conversation, just be prepared if you’ve dealt with public adversity in the past. The public won’t necessarily cooperate with your request for positive press. McDonald’s, Bill Cosby, and the NYPD have all learned this the hard way. Asking people to give you their input is often a good way to make a campaign backfire. This is because asking people to talk nicely about you gives people who want to trash-talk you the perfect opportunity, with tons of free exposure.
Ask and you shall receive, but be prepared for any previous issues or current public stigmas to resurface.
Politics and Religion. Unless you are a religious company or a company that caters people of a certain political affiliation, having a public stance on any religious or political topic will likely backfire. This is what happened with both Chik-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby when they voluntarily pushed their religious beliefs into the public domain. Customers might love your product, but subjective political or religious views might put a bad taste in their mouth, one that even your tasty chicken can’t get rid of. If your product or company has a diverse audience, you should highly consider keeping your personal beliefs separate from company messaging.
Public Inaccuracies. There have been many cases in which tweets had been posted that were misinformed. When people realized that there were major mistakes in geography, history, or other big common knowledge areas, this can make your company appear unrefined and unprofessional. Delta published this photo in their Twitter feed to represent the US win over Ghana in the World Cup… would have worked nicely, except giraffes aren’t native to Ghana.
This misrepresentation was quickly called out by the twitter community, and Delta issued a quick apology.
The Bottom Line. Do your research, double and triple check before posting anything. Don’t respond to criticisms or complaints with emotion, take your time and respond appropriately. Be authentic and apologetic when necessary. If you’re working with a team, set up protocols, guidelines, and get second opinions on anything that could be considered controversial. Use common sense, professionalism, and tweet your networks as you would like to be tweeted.