Corporate Social Media FAIL…Accident, Oversight or Just Plain Stupid?

Many large corporations now know the importance of using social media tools to connect with their customers. It is a strong factor in their overall reputation and it presents an opportunity to connect directly with existing and potential customers. Social media strategies have also become a core component of overall marketing plans and many companies have hired individuals specifically to manage these accounts. But despite these efforts, we still see corporate social media fails.

Consider the photo posted on Tumblr by American Apparel on July 4, 2014. This firm posted an image of what they thought was simply smoke in the sky. Users quickly realized that it was actually an image of the space shuttle Challenger that exploded quickly after launch in 1986. This tragedy killed all seven people aboard and it is certainly not an image that should be used to celebrate a holiday. American Apparel quickly deleted it, but the damage was already done. The media quickly latched onto the story and posted screenshots of the image that users took while it was posted. The company’s social media accounts were slammed with criticism. This, combined with the negative media attention, resulted in very adverse effects on their image and reputation, and in lost patrons.

But it isn’t just corporations or franchises that have made social media blunders. Donald Trump is one of the highest profile figures today who has faced backlash for his tweets. Trump is repeatedly criticized for tweeting inaccurate claims, encouraging hateful speech, and using his Twitter account at inappropriate hours (3 A.M.). And while there are certainly many factors contributing to his drop in popularity, his loose behavior on social media certainly doesn’t help his cause.

The truth of the matter is that social media mistakes can happen to anyone, whether it be by accident, oversight or simply writing and posting content when you are in the wrong frame of mind. And while we have all heard the list of social media “don’ts”, how many leaders actively consider implementing safeguards for their content? Very simply, these awkward and harmful posts can be prevented by adding just a few key steps to your content creation process.

The first is to keep the writing atmosphere positive and focused on the task at hand. Post signs that have encouraging tips for the writers-such as promoting consistency and linking messages back to the organization’s mission statement. This doesn’t mean the content has to be dry; humor and entertainment can surely be a component of some posts, but it should always be done with the end goal in mind – enhancing the company’s reputation and reaching current and potential clients effectively.

The second key step, and arguably the most important, is to implement a vetting process for the information if you don’t already have that in place. This is often sacrificed so that posts can be made public quickly and there is a need for immediacy when using these platforms so that is certainly a valid concern. But if you can balance these two needs, it will ultimately lead to better quality posts as well as a screening process for any posts that may tarnish the brand’s reputation. By simply requiring each post to be proofed by one or two people (more if possible), you can get a general sense for how it will be received by the public audience. And there is a double benefit, because in addition to catching any material that is not aligned with your business’s values and mission, you may also receive feedback for strengthening the message. If these posts can be created in a team environment, you will have the benefit of multiple minds working together towards a common goal. Just think, if American Apparel had paused to get some feedback before sending out that fateful tweet, the whole situation could have been avoided and their reputation been in much better shape!

Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach and social strategist: Author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age