Five ways to avoid a scandal on social media

Social media can be a fantastic marketing and customer-engagement tool, but like any messaging platform, mistakes can (and do) happen.

Plenty of companies have gone viral on social media – just not in the way they intended. Whether a small business or large enterprise, it’s easy for companies to forget that they are communicating with real people, in real time, on social media.

That’s not to say that social media should be subject to the same strict editorial controls that apply to more traditional communication channels, but you should still have guidelines in place that protect your brand.

Here’s a look at five actions business should be careful to avoid on social media.

1. Using negative events for publicity

Following a tragedy, it can be a nice gesture to send out a simple post expressing sympathy for those affected. Your audience are less likely to respond well, however, if product promotion is tied in with it. This was the case when Epicurious told Twitter followers that their “hearts are with” victims of the Boston bombings, then promoted a breakfast recipe. They deleted the tweet later and apologised, acknowledging it had been insensitive.

2. Going on the defensive

When US restaurant chain Applebee’s found itself in the firing line after firing an employee who identified a customer who had refused to tip, it defended its position via lengthy statements on its Facebook page. Negative statements from customers were also deleted. It was a PR meltdown that could have been avoided had customers been allowed to express their disappointment freely.

3. Neglecting security

Hackers are always going to look for ways to hijack corporate social accounts. When Burger King’s Twitter was hacked in early 2013, they were the only ones not laughing at the updates suddenly appearing in their feed, including one claiming they had been bought out by McDonald’s.

4. Not acknowledging customers’ concerns

The best way to deal with a crisis is to let customers know you’re working to set things right, and to respond to requests for more information. When the engine caught fire on its Triumph cruise ship, Carnival used Facebook for positive spin, rather than updating concerned family members on the status and safety of those aboard. They apologised later, but it was a case of too little, too late.

5. Let your staff go wild

Creating a human voice and tone on social media is the best way to engage your audience, but sometimes being too real can cause more harm than good. When Ryan Air’s Chief Executive Michael O’Leary took over their Twitter for the #GrillMOL chat his personality shone through, but in the wrong way. Being brash, rude and disrespectful to customers is no way to foster loyalty.

Social media can be a fantastic marketing and customer-engagement tool. But like any messaging platform, mistakes can (and do) happen. Making it part of your overall communication strategy – rather than an afterthought or add-on – can help keep the misfires to a minimum.

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