Social Media Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Business

Why Social Media Mistakes Matter

Social media mistakes matter because your social media presence may be the first — or even the only — impression potential customers have of your business. Your social profiles should reflect who you are, what you do, and what you stand for.

Most social media mistakes are a result of laziness, inattention, or carelessness. Some can be attributed to insensitivity and/or tone deafness. Whether intentional or not, these failures can hurt your reputation and your business.

It’s not just the major social media mistakes that can tank a business online; sometimes it’s less obvious errors that hurt a business’ presence.

How to Prevent the Social Media Fail

1. Carefully Vet the Person to Whom You Give the Credentials

Too many businesses mistakenly assume that the youngest person on staff, sometimes an intern, is the best choice to do social media posting. After all, they are digital natives, and understand social media far better than their parents and grandparents. Right?

Not necessarily. Although the younger generation may understand the technical aspects, they don’t always have the wisdom, experience, or judgement to be the voice of the company.

Anyone who has login credentials for your social media accounts has the ability to speak for your business. Think about that. Would you allow your youngest and potentially least experienced staff member to be interviewed on television as your company spokesperson? I’m guessing not.

The keys to your social media profiles are the same. You’re choosing the person who will represent you on the internet. Where nothing really is ever deleted.

2. Set Standards for Language and Principles

Have social media policies in place, in writing. Your policies should cover the following:

Things We Just Don’t Say

If there are specific words that are not to be used, those need to be communicated clearly. Words considered profane or vulgar are an example. If you know that you audience will be offended by these words, set out a policy that you won’t use them.

It goes without saying you want to forbid any racist, sexist, or hateful language, but beyond that, consider political statements, or any other potentially controversial topics, words, or phrases that you shouldn’t use.

Take a Stand or No?

Will your organization take a stand on social or political issues? Will you support or endorse candidates for elected office? Determine this before you give anyone the login.

If it’s important to remain neutral on hot-button issues, think through what that means. Lay out strict guidelines about what’s off limits and how much latitude your social media person has.

If controversy is OK with your organization, think carefully about your audience’s potential reaction. This requires that you know your audience thoroughly and deeply enough to anticipate their reaction. Still, there could be surprises, so be prepared for backlash.

Prepare in Advance

Anticipate as many negative responses as you can before you post. Have answers and responses at the ready in case you need to reply quickly.

Remember, in the event of a backlash, it’s important to be transparent and honest; don’t try to pull a snow job. Your followers will see through it, and it will only make things worse.

3. Be Careful With Hashtags

Several years ago, Dr. Mehmet Oz, a physician and television personality who hosts his own daytime talk show, solicited viewer topic ideas via Twitter. He used the hashtag #OzsInbox to get viewer feedback on questions they would like him to address on the show.

You can see for yourself how well that went with a simple Twitter search on the hashtag, but here is one of the most … let’s say discouraging.


Dr. Oz’s mistake was not knowing his audience well enough. I don’t watch his show and don’t know much about him, but apparently his reputation as a medical expert isn’t exactly unblemished.

If his team had done even a cursory attempt at social listening, they’d have known to avoid the hashtag idea altogether.

McDonald’s had a similar incident with their #McDStories hashtag campaign. They asked users to post stories that involved their restaurants. They may have been looking for nostalgia and fond memories of their brand, but what they got was sarcasm and their branded hashtag because what’s commonly known as a bashtag.

social media mistakes

4. Monitor Automation Carefully

Automation is a great way to save time and resources on social media sites. If used well, it can help you keep a regular social presence without spending all of your time posting.

Bank of America had a serious automation fail in 2013. During the height of the Occupy movement, a protestor tweeted an image of the chalk artwork he’d been drawing on the New York City sidewalk outside a B of A location. The New York Police Department chased him away, citing obstruction.

social media automation

When the user tweeted the photo and the NYPD’s actions, B of A’s bot went into action, repeating the same message with each response. Bank of America became the butt of the joke, and further damaged their reputation.

What to Do if You Make a Social Media Mistake

1. Delete the Post

You can delete the post but don’t assume it’s really gone. In fact, you should assume there are multiple screenshots. This means you cannot deny it. As sure as you try to deny it, someone will post the screenshot and reveal you to be the liar you are.

Admit openly that you made a mistake. If it’s offensive to a minority group, or otherwise defamatory, you’ll need to describe what actions you will take to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

2. Don’t Say You Were Hacked

Many have tried this approach. None have succeeded. No one buys it. The internet is smarter than that.

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