Social media is a necessity for businesses. Whether it be for marketing, customer service, or public relations, social media is often how companies stay relevant in their customers’ lives and aware of any issues that arise. However, a wrong step on one of these platforms can work against companies, digitally tarnishing their reputations.

In 2017, the world watched the social media failures of big names like Dove, Pepsi, and Adidas. Whether it be misspellings, misconstrued images, ill-timed humor, and offensive remarks, social media mistakes are easy commit. While many social media problems start out small or happen quickly, the mark is still made, and the company still gets hurt.

SEE: Social media policy (Tech Pro Research)

“Social media is now the avenue for escalating and for overall turning the event into a much louder discussion,” said Nick Hayes, a senior analyst at Forrester. “A lot of what you have to do is start to think about how an organization has typically thought of and managed crises in the past, and start to apply that lens of social media.”

A social media faux pas doesn’t only cause problems externally, but even more so internally. Hayes highlighted the interpersonal and financial impact companies can face after such an incident. If your reputation is bruised, partners may not be as eager to work with you. The costs in and out of the business are significant as well.

Take the example of United Airlines, which faced strong criticism on social media after a video of a man being forcibly dragged off a plane by security went viral. The company tweeted a statement from its CEO, which many criticized as too cold and corporate.

This social media disaster hit United’s stock prices hard, and led to many internal issues regarding customer experience, Hayes said. With a newfound negative public perception, United found its popularity decreasing.

Protecting your company is easy, however, you just need to be aware of common social media mistakes. Here are five habits to stay away from.

1. Forgetting your brand

When constructing a social media persona, you have to know your brand. With every post, social media managers must keep in mind the company’s core values. It’s important to ask yourself before posting, “Does this post align with my company’s beliefs?”

Social media mistakes are often made when companies are trying to stand out. In an effort to gain publicity, companies may try to post something funny or eye-catching, but these types of posts also leave the most room for error. With the subjectivity of humor, companies need to be very careful that they aren’t crossing the line. If a company is considering entering a social media discussion about politics or making a joke online, they need to ask if that post would really support their company’s overall brand.

“It’s always important to, whether you’re a social media director or somebody responsible for the social voice of a brand, make sure that [a post] is aligned with the core values or mission statement of the brand, and that the tone of voice comes across in every online interaction,” said Gartner research director Jay Wilson.

2. Disregarding your audience

Going hand-in-hand with knowing your brand, you must know your audience. Businesses need to remember the personality of their customers and what social media would play well. We currently live in a very polarized country, politically and socially, Wilson said. This polarization is accompanied by an increase in vocal public opinion, which is amplified through social media platforms.

After asking yourself if a prospective post aligns with your brand, then ask if it aligns with your consumer. Both questions act as quick filters when deciding to post something out of the ordinary.

“Strategize, and really talk about and brainstorm what are the potential issues that could arise,” Wilson said. “Whether you’re taking a stand on a specific issue or you’re simply putting a campaign out there, what are the potential reactions that you might expect from this increasingly polarized audience?”

3. Plagiarism

Probably the easiest online slip-up is not giving credit where it’s due. With the amount of data and ideas floating around the internet, originality can be difficult to achieve. If a company posts a statistic or fact without attributing the information, then they can not only find themselves in a lawsuit, but also branded as a plagiarizer.

“Brands need to create playbooks and have internal processes so that their teams understand what’s fair use, what constitutes express consent, what constitutes implied consent,” said Wilson. “If you are leveraging third party content, which is something that we often recommend that brands do–finding relevant news stories or content created by partners or thought leaders on social–that’s a great source of content for brands, but you need to make sure that you’re using it in a way that’s not overly promotional, and that you have consent to use that content.”

4. Failing to prepare

Sometimes the biggest social media problem isn’t an incident itself, but the aftermath. These platforms spread information at such a fast pace that companies are given less time to respond in the event of a crisis. Hayes emphasizes creating a template for response, rather than just waiting for something bad to happen, when you won’t have time to do so thoughtfully.

“I think brands don’t drill enough,” said Wilson. “They need to be doing drills and running simulations and scenarios to make sure that their human processes, their technology, is able to quickly identify and respond to social crises.”

5. Inauthenticity

Always say sorry, and when you do, mean it. If a company is accused of a major wrongdoing, they need to apologize, and they need to do so genuinely. Referencing back to United, Hayes noted their half-hearted apologetic nature to their blunder, circumnavigating the actual consumer concerns around the event. Companies should keep an authentic voice in every message they send, but especially when it comes to apologies.

Wilson suggested creating employee advocacy programs to carry out messages to consumers. “People tend to trust front-line employees more than they do C-level executives,” Wilson said.”They want the apology from the C-level executive, but they want to listen to front-line employees and their experiences with a brand, so if you have an employee advocacy program in place, that’s a great go-to resource if you find yourself in a crisis.”

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