Real-Time Engagement Etiquette - Avoid Social-Media Mishaps Sometimes the safest way to avoid a misstep is to remain silent.

By Jen Gray

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


As trending topics continue to explode on Facebook and Twitter, marketers are increasingly embracing real-time engagement to spread brand awareness and better connect with fans.

But marketers often run the risk of saying too much. In recalling national tragedies like 9/11, for example, big-name brands have jumped on the opportunity to tweet out sentiments and offer special discounts, often leaving a bad taste in people's mouths.

In a world where communication is a click away, when is it appropriate to contribute to real-time conversation and when should brands remain silent?

While the competition for companies to forge relationships with consumers is fierce, ultimately, a company's brand is not a person and commenting on certain topics can be read as insincere. While the humans behind the account are empathetic, the brands on display don't always resonate as such.

As a marketer, interact with audiences in a way that's representative of your company brand's voice. To ensure meaningful exchanges and avoid an engagement crisis, here are four questions to ask:

Related: Increase Engagement on Twitter With Solid Tactics Backed by Research

1. What's the ultimate goal?

Before jumping on the engagement bandwagon, evaluate what you hope to accomplish by posting. Are you simply using a hashtag to attempt humor or does the company's brand have a significant tie to a timely event?

Is there a particular sentiment you hope to drive by sharing or do you merely want to remind audiences that the company exists?

Just because your company has a social-media presence doesn't mean it must join the conversation. If a tweet does not serve a greater business purpose, save your steam for a stronger fit.

2. Do you have something to say?

Hot-topic hashtags can be a great gateway for brands to connect with fans. But have a full grasp of the context before jumping on board. Recurring hashtags like #throwbackthursday or #transformationtuesday are low-risk bets if they let a company show creativity without treading too far off-message.

Not all hashtags are appropriate to adopt, however. Be wary of contributing to discussions tied to others' misfortune. Recently, some companies were frowned upon for creating content tied to 9/11. Organizations directly involved in the tragedy can authentically offer condolences. But if an unaffiliated company tries to make light of the event, it's often perceived as disrespectful.

Related: The Four Ms of Social Media That All Marketers Should Master

3. Is the message authentic to the brand's voice?

Ensure brand messages are not muddled. Stay on target with engagements that directly pertain to the company's culture. On Veteran's Day, RadioShack thanked veterans for their service in a tweet that conveyed its appreciation lasts all year long.

Instead of offering gratitude simply to be heard, RadioShack proved its reverence for servicepeople extended beyond Nov. 11, reminding fans that military personnel receive 10 percent off every day.

Miramax also approached Veteran's Day in a way directly aligned with its brand. The film company tweeted a message honoring vets and linked to a blog post highlighting films that explore the valor of soldiers in the Civil War and World War II. Authentic to Miramax's expertise, the content honors a real-time event while staying true to the company's voice.

Other companies also took to Facebook to show their appreciation. Starbucks expressed thanks by posting a picture of an employee who is a military spouse and offering veterans and their spouses a free, tall brewed coffee on Nov. 11. This showed that Starbucks outwardly supports military families and adds value to consumers, rewarding veterans and their families for their service.

When participating in real-time engagement, remember that timely commentary is meant to be a way for companies to forge stronger bonds with fans not steal the spotlight to advertise. Keep messaging on topic and refrain from attaching a coupon or trying to sell a product. Self-serving messages dilute a brand's authenticity and run the risk of alienating fans.

4. Does the post add value to a consumer relationship?

If a real-time occurrence has a potential for tragedy, keep a safe distance unless your message can add direct value to the conversation. If a hurricane is approaching, it seems right for the American Red Cross to chime in and provide safety tips.

While it's never wrong to think about changing the paradigm, don't tap into a serious situation unless you're offering to help and the message is related to the company's brand.

If you do make a real-time engagement faux pas, act fast and apologize as soon the misstep becomes clear. The longer you wait to address the problem, the worse the situation becomes. Your best bet is to be honest and direct and then move forward. If your post results in offending followers, apologize and, if you delete the offending tweet, acknowledge that, too.

Related: Blizzard, You Say? These 5 Companies Used the Social-Media Hype to Their Advantage.

Wavy Line
Jen Gray

Vice President of Brand, Marketing and Creative Services at HelloWorld

Jen Todd Gray is vice president of brand, marketing and creative services at Detroit-based HelloWorld, a rich engagement agency specializing in mobile, social and digital campaigns. Previously she was  managing producer of, served as interactive producer for Corbis Productions and produced interactive content for MSN entertainment. 

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