Social media can establish a brand’s online presence, that is, if the brand knows how to manage social media and, equally important, if the brand knows how to deal with social media mistakes. A few big names have made mistakes in the past and surely more will follow. The issue when dealing with social communities is that a company has limited control over content and how it’s spread. Peoples’ reactions are always hard to predict, which is why some companies choose not to engage in social media and rely on traditional forms of media to reach their customers. The online social world allows customers to publicly send a company a message, whether it’s positive or negative. Once a negative message has been posted online, it is hard to control the damage. That’s why it’s important to offer high-quality customer service via social networks.

These are the definite don’ts in social media crisis situations:

–          Not responding: This is one of the worst mistakes a company can make regarding social networks. If companies fail to respond, it will create the feeling that the company does not care about their customers. This is obviously not a good thing if you want to build revenue.

–          Responding too late: The phrase “better late than never” doesn’t quite apply to social media mistakes. A company can lose credibility when they respond to a crisis too late (in the public’s eye) and the phrase “too little too late” would probably be more suitable.

–          Not apologizing: This is exactly the type of behavior that could completely ruin your brand. Not only will people think you don’t care, they will also think it’s an injustice towards them. Depending on the magnitude of the mistake, apologizing to the public may save your brand as long as the apologies are sincere.

–          Spelling mistakes: This is a small mistake, but can be easily made and happens to the best professionals out there. It’s also easily prevented by having an editor check all content before putting it online. Once again, your company can lose credibility if a major spelling error is found online. You probably won’t need an editor for every message you tweet, but in case of doubt, have others re-read your posts. Better safe than sorry, right?

–          Un-optimized social network profiles / inactive accounts: You have to be very active on any social network you decide to engage in. Don’t create a profile on every social network if you haven’t conducted proper research concerning activity, content and audiences because there is a difference in user activity. For example, it’s very common for Twitter users to retweet a message around six times a day (spread over the day). On Facebook however, you’re likely to post only a few messages a day. This has to do with the fact that Twitter allows only 140 characters and it’s all in real-time, which causes messages to have a shorter longevity than they would on Facebook.

A good way to prepare for possible social network emergencies is to create a social media policy. This policy should include possible scenarios and the proper steps to take. Clarify who is responsible for what task, so everyone is aware of what to do. You can also make sure that all employees understand the policy by training them on a reoccurring basis (maybe once a month).

These are two quick examples of social media gone really bad:

–          Anthony Weiner: Former Congress member Anthony Weiner had posted a provocative picture of himself on his Twitter account. This tweet was obviously not meant to go public, but it was supposed to be sent to a woman who’s not his wife. Weiner claimed his account was hacked, but later admitted he did post the photo. This led to his resignation.

–          The story of #McDstories: McDonald’s stories. Twitter users could use this hashtag and share their McDonald’s experiences. The hashtag was used, but I don’t think McDonald’s wishes to promote these stories.

Hopefully you have learned from the mistakes made by others and have a social media policy. I would love to hear your experiences. Please leave a comment!