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Social Media Blunders to Avoid



Social Media Blunders to Avoid

By Kelli Korducki

On September 11, AT&T committed the social media faux pas heard around the world. Rather than respectfully commemorate the twelve-year anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy or, even, ignore it altogether, the telecommunications giant tweeted and Facebooked the words “Never forget” alongside a photograph of a smartphone screen poised in front of the Manhattan skyline—presumably an AT&T smartphone, implicitly using the company’s services to view a pair of cylindrical beams superimposed where the Twin Towers had once stood. The company had, in two words, attempted to co-opt a national day of solemn tribute to boost its brand.

The effort failed spectacularly. “Never forget to switch to Verizon,” tweeted the comedian Mike Drucker, echoing the sentiments shared by the hundreds who retweeted AT&T’s blunder in disbelief. The company deleted its message on both Twitter and Facebook, and CEO Randall Stephenson released an official apology on the company’s blog the following day.

From a distance, this colossal error in judgment seems like an obvious one to avoid. Yet, these mistakes happen more often than one would think. AT&T isn’t the only major company guilty of this pitfall; just under a year earlier, Gap Inc. made a similar misstep during Hurricane Sandy, suggesting that residents in storm-affected areas take their Gap shopping online.

Steering away from emotional kryptonite in marketing campaigns isn’t exactly rocket science. But, with more and more businesses looking to maintain a consistent online presence, it’s hard to imagine that similar slip-ups won’t become a more regular occurrence. For one, it’s tough to keep a conversation flowing that builds brand recognition while also staying relevant to what’s on the market’s mind. Besides, sometimes it pays to be provocative. So, how do companies determine where to draw the line so they can avoid falling into a certain negative stereotype associated with un-self-aware social media professionals? Here are a few basic rules.

1.)    Don’t piggyback on tragedy. While it would seem that this is so obvious it doesn’t bear repeating, but here goes anyway: if people are losing homes, belongings, loved ones, or commemorating any of the above, don’t even think about using that incident to boost your brand. Step away from the screen. Sit on your tweeting fingers, if that’s what it’s going to take.

2.)    Serve as a knowledgeable guide, not a brand spammer. There are few things more annoying than a social media account that does nothing but tweet (or Facebook post) straight sales pitches. Instead, it pays to be interactive. Position yourself as a trustworthy voice for customers to turn to with questions or complaints while making sure to keep your feed up to date with information about new services, upgrades, sales, or whatever else is relevant at the moment. Maintain those relationships, and watch your followers list—and business—blossom.

3.)    Engage. Some businesses treat their Twitter accounts as opportunities to release a few canned brand-related statements every day and little else. This is fine, but it’s also limiting. To get the most out of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or what have you, it’s important to recognize that social media platforms are just that: social. The idea is to establish conversations and figure out how to respond to what users what not just in messaging, but with service. Ideally, the first should guarantee the latter.

4.)    Stay on-message—and away from politics. The family dinner table rule extends to the Internet, too: it isn’t polite to bring up politics and, if you choose to do so, know that you are typing at your own risk. Fact is, no matter how attached you are to your ideals, there’s a solid likelihood that someone using your services will be alienated by your position. Remember, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy thought it was a good idea once, too.

5.)    Don’t schedule tweets. Don’t schedule tweets. Don’t schedule tweets. A message so nice, we list it thrice. For one thing, a tweet takes about three seconds to send off: a 140-character blurb is hardly a dissertation, and any semi-literate professional ought to be able to come up with one on the fly. But there’s a more logistically helpful reason behind this advice, too: letting pre-scheduled tweets run while a major event is jamming up the news cycle makes your business look seriously out of touch. Worse, it can make you come off like a total jerk.

One example of scheduled tweeting gone awry comes courtesy of concert promoters Live Nation Ontario. A full half-hour after Toronto news outlets had begun reporting a stage collapse that injured three people and left one person dead at a June 2012 Radiohead tour stop, the organization sent out a tweet inviting fans to “Help us create a @radiohead photo album from the show!” While the tweet was quickly deleted, it goes without saying that the public was not amused.

 


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