As more companies and celebrities take to social media for quality engagement with consumers and fans, the numbers of blunders on these platforms are also on the rise. Here are just three examples of social media disasters that happened in 2012.

Planning is key to prevention

Let’s hope your company is never the focus of a social media nightmare. You can decrease your chances of making a social media blunder by taking these three simple steps.

  • Have the right person focusing on social media: If you are able to hire a Social Media Manager, be sure to hire the most qualified candidate, rather than fall into the trap of thinking that perhaps youth is a positive for such a position. The person should be well versed in social media decorum and etiquette. If you are assigning someone on staff with the duty of posting to your company’s social media sites, you should provide training about what is effective, appropriate, and desired in terms of the brand’s message. You definitely need someone monitoring your company’s entire social presence, so they can spot any possible conflicts as soon as possible.
  • Create specific guidelines for contests: When you’re creating and promoting a contest, it’s imperative that your company or brand sets and states the parameters rather than leaving entries wide open for interpretation. For example, in the Pitbull contest, his PR firm might have wanted to make the contest limited to the contiguous United States.
  • Plan for conflict: Create a conflict matrix that cites specific points that may cause contention on social media — this can range from product announcements, promos, and contests to any other piece of information that someone may not agree with — and possible responses that could stop the incident from becoming a full-blown disaster. This could even be useful if any of your social media accounts are hacked.

If disaster strikes…

The first thing to do if a social media disaster strikes is to respond as soon as possible rather than ignore the issue and hope it will go away. You can decide how you want to react (remember to refer to your conflict matrix), perhaps with an apology or with humor depending on the situation. For instance, Oreo tweeted about sneaking cookies into movie theatres, and then AMC responded via tweet, “Not cool, cookie. Not cool.” Oreo responded immediately, and the subsequent exchanges turned into a positive experience for both brands. Whatever you do, resist any urge you might have to lash out at people who post negative feedback.

After the dust settles, you should take the time to figure out what your company can learn from the disaster, including how to prevent it from happening again and how well your employees handled the nightmare situation.