[guest post by Jane Bolto]

Here are five tips for how to avoid a social disaster that can cost you:

Understand your company’s strengths and weaknesses

A number of companies have suffered major social media backlashes after encouraging their customers to share experiences of their brand. For example, the Victorian Taxi Association asked Twitter followers to share feedback about its service using the #yourtaxis hashtag. What followed was a slew of stories detailing physical, verbal and sexual abuse perpetrated by the company’s taxi drivers. McDonald’s and Qantas Airlines are amongst other companies who have tried a similar strategy only to become the butt of jokes or provide an outlet for customer anger.

If you are a company specializing in a budget service not known for its reliability or you know your standards fall below the industry average, encouraging a conversation with customers about their experiences might not be the best publicity. You need to fully understand how customers view your brand before encouraging them to share that view online.

Keep up to date with the news

If you’re posting tweets about cheap holidays in a particular country when that country’s recent tragedy is all over the news or quoting a famous celebrity when they’ve recently got in trouble with the law, your brand is going to suffer. Keeping up to date with current events is an essential part of maintaining an effective social media presence. Check live and scheduled posts for anything that may come across as insensitive.

Understand the meaning of a hashtag before you use it

An unseasoned social media user may be tempted to crowbar a couple of trending hashtags into a post in order to give their brand some much needed exposure. This is rarely a good idea and social media followers will quickly cotton on to what you’re trying to do. In doing this, you also run the risk of creating an even bigger social media disaster – misunderstanding what the trending hashtag is all about.

DiGiorno’s Pizza jumped on the hashtag #whyIstayed, which was being used to promote discussion around domestic violence. Kenneth Cole used the hashtag #Cairo (used to talk about the Egyptian revolution) to try and sell its spring fashion collection. Both experienced lots of negative PR as a result. You need to fully understand the meaning of a hashtag and its surrounding story before you try to piggyback on its success.

Get the whole company up to speed on social media policy

As Domino’s Pizza found back in 2009, it’s not just your company social media feed that can affect your brand’s standing with customers. Two Domino’s employees filmed themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich before it went out for delivery. They then posted this video online. Creating a social media code and making all staff aware of what is acceptable and what isn’t, for both company and personal accounts, will limit the damage rogue staff members can do. IBM’s social media guidelines are a good example.

Roll with the punches

It’s impossible to deliver a perfectly judged social media post every single time. You may get it wrong occasionally and you need to be able to roll with the punches. As soon as you notice the mistake you’ve made, get back on social media, own up to the mistake and issue an apology. Try to respond to any complaints quickly and professionally. Alternatively, you could try to inject a little humour into proceedings as O2 did when their network went down. Their posts gave the crisis a human voice and won over many a customer in the process.

Preventing and managing social media blunders is essential to maintaining customer engagement and loyalty. Seeing your posts in the wider context and making sure there’s a comprehensive strategy in place will help you to avoid a major disaster and keep your brand image intact.


** About the Author: With a background in Marketing, Jane Bolto currently works as a Content Specialist at Nybizdb.com, and is always willing to share her passion for new marketing strategies.