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Ecommerce | Social media

Eight Tips to Avoid Social Media Fails

image: Business man covering his eyes in dismay at the computer screen after making a social media snafu.
Think you're too smart to make a social media gaffe? So did McDonald's, Tesco, Urban Outfitters...

Social media has given businesses so many opportunities to grab the attention of prospects and instill loyalty among customers—and to alienate just as many of those prospects and customers with an insensitive or ill-timed message. Even after a company has deleted the unfortunate Twitter message or Facebook comment, the social media fail can live on with a single screen grab.


You might think, "I have too much common sense to make a social media snafu." But major organisations such as McDonald's, Nestle, KitchenAid, and Tesco no doubt thought the same.


In an ebook titled "Make Your Social #FailProof," social media marketing platform uberVU offers some advice. Even if you're confident in your social media aptitude, it can't hurt to be reminded of potential perils and pitfalls.



Don't feed the trolls.

Not everyone loves your company. Social media makes it especially easy for people to express their dissatisfaction—not only to you but to the world at large. And then there are trolls, who post messages solely to get a rise from people.


Do not fight fire with fire. Emotional responses are food and drink to trolls. Do not feed them. Refrain from responding.


Sometimes, though, you may need to respond to legitimate negative comments. If a customer is complaining about a problem, try to resolve the issue. You can ask him to contact you offline or request his contact information so that you or your customer service team can reach out. In this way, social media is a valuable customer service tool. And of course, a polite, earnest apology, when warranted, will never go amiss.


If people are using social media to comment on a company policy or stance—whether it's a decision to support a certain political party or to raise prices on a certain product—do not respond unless you can do so rationally and logically, and in a way that you're certain the brand will stand behind. Otherwise, you're better off not responding at all.



Don't pretend to be a customer or a fan—and don't enlist colleagues to do so either.

"On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog" is a caption to a cartoon published in 1993, in the early days of the web. Nowadays it's much harder to get away with being someone you're not. So if negative comments outweigh positive ones on your Facebook feed or if nobody on your Twitter feed is praising your company's latest offering, do not jump into the breach under a fake name or account. A lone or overly rabid cheerleader will arouse suspicion—and if you're caught out, you'll find it more difficult than ever to regain your audience's trust.



Use different management tools for personal and business accounts.

Many a social media fail was simply the result of the user sending what was meant to be a personal message via his business feed. If you can't use different tools, double-check each and every post before hitting "send" to be sure it's from the correct account to the correct audience.



Do not use hashtags before confirming what they're referencing.

A notorious example in the U.S. occurred when #Aurora trended on Twitter following a mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre. An apparel retailer tweeted "#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress."


Another example: In response to another Twitter trending hashtag, #WhyIStayed, frozen-pizza brand DiGiorno tweeted "#WhyIStayed You had pizza." That would have been cute—if the hashtag wasn't in reference to domestic violence, with thousands of women using it to reveal their reasons for remaining in abusive relationships.


In short: Never use a hashtag, no matter how seemingly innocuous, without researching exactly what it's referencing.



Do not use any sort of tragic event as a self-promotional hook.

"This storm blows (but free shipping doesn't...)" tweeted retailer Urban Outfitters during Hurricane Sandy, which killed more than 230 people in eight countries from Jamaica to Canada. Sandy may have been just an interesting story to many, but certainly not to the millions in the path of the storm.


In another example, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings, foodie website Epicurious tweeted "Boston, our hearts are with you. Here's a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today..." Epicurious should have stopped after the first sentence.



Proofread every single post.

People may be more tolerant of typos on social media—at least among their friends. Regardless of what your Facebook page says, all those followers who "like" you are not your friends; they are customers and potential customers. You wouldn't tolerate misspellings or poor grammar on a company product label or billboard; neither should you on your company's social media.



Be wary of humour.

In this era of heightened social correctness, you can never be too careful. Unless your company truly doesn't care about possibly causing offence, err on the side of caution when it comes to using humour. If in doubt, don't.



Do not guilt your audience into engaging.

Myriad companies have used some variation of "We'll donate XX to a good cause for every share/retweet." Yes, that may encourage your message and your brand to go viral. But it may also lead many to think poorly of an organisation that seemingly donates to charity only after blackmailing its audience.

author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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