Take Care to Learn From These 4 Big Social-Media Blunders

If you're looking to avoid mistakes on social media, take some time to learn where others have gone wrong.

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By Thomas Smale


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When used correctly, social media can be an effective tool for growing your business. It can send traffic to your website and convert visitors into leads and customers.

But as you gain more visibility as a business, your responsibility to your followers also increases. More people will be watching. Should you make an unintended blunder, it will prove hard to take back.

Someone will have already taken a screenshot of your post, and pretty soon that person will be spreading it around, much to your chagrin. It will only be a matter of time before the major publications pick up the story.

Here in the information age, train wrecks are often brought under a spotlight for cross-examination, and there's nothing more fascinating to rubberneckers than a company imploding on its favorite social network. If you're looking to avoid mistakes on social media, take some time to learn where others have gone wrong. Here are four social-media mistakes to avoid in your business.

1. Getting too excited over #hashtags

Hashtags can help your social-media posts gain visibility -- especially if you use popular ones connected to your subject matter. Although hashtagging is enabled on most social-media sites today, many would agree that they tend to be the most useful on networks such as Twitter, Google+ and Instagram over sites such as Facebook. That in and of itself, however, should not lead to any negative press.

Related: 3 Never-Fail Tactics for Superior Social-Media Engagement

Where many businesses go wrong is that they get overzealous and start hijacking popular hashtags that have nothing to do with their company or products.

Consider the example of Habitat. It was caught tagging tweets with hashtags such as #iPhone, #Apple, #TrueBlood and #MOUSAVI -- the Iranian election hashtag -- to send users to ecommerce sites or NSFW images.

While the wrong usage of hashtags won't always result in a damaged reputation, in the case of Habitat, it definitely had a negative impact on its brand. It's easy to see why.

2. Failing to understand how a platform works

Businesses often take to new social-media platforms where there may already be an established culture and a set of best practices. Frustratingly, these rules aren't always spelled out. Some experimentation is routine when it comes to figuring out a social-marketing plan, and the amount of harm that can come from trial and error is minimal and pretty predictable.

But laziness is often the root cause of a thoughtless campaign that isn't in alignment with the site it was launched on.

We have but to look to Burger King's "Whopper Sacrifice" contest for a noteworthy example. In this campaign, the fast-food company encouraged users to de-friend 10 of their Facebook friends in exchange for a coupon for a free Whopper.

Not only was this campaign completely off the mark -- since Facebook is a place where people go to connect -- it also violated user privacy, and Facebook had to shut it down within 10 days of launching.

Remember to take some time to understand the platform before launching a campaign.

3. Failing to vet and monitor your social-media team

How well do you know the people working in your social-media department? Do you trust them?

Though it's always wise to hire people that have experience and a track record of producing positive results, their character and self-awareness is equally important. If you don't take the time to determine what kind of strategies they were applying to their previous marketing efforts, you could end up regretting hiring them. After all, controversy can draw a lot of attention, but that doesn't always make it a great strategy.

Consider the example of KitchenAid. A hapless employee posted an insensitive tweet about President Obama's deceased grandmother.

Related: 4 Secrets to Better Interactive Social-Media Content

Cynthia Soledad, head of the KitchenAid brand, promptly apologized for the offense, but by then it was too late. Restoring faith in your brand after such an incident can prove challenging. It's best to vet your team before their mistakes end up costing you.

4. Not paying attention

It seems obvious enough. If you aren't paying attention to what you're doing, you could accidentally include the wrong link in a tweet, or paste a chunk of text that was only meant for the eyes of a colleague.

But it happens more often than you would think. You have to remember that some copy and paste is par for the course on social media, whether you're using swipe files to streamline your processes, or you're shortening links using one of the many services out there to track clicks and shares.

In 2014, US Airways was having a routine conversation with one of its frustrated customers, but when a company representative replied a second time, there was a NSFW photo attached to the tweet.

Evidently, the US Airways employee was meaning to include a link to a feedback form, but ended up pasting a link to an image that that person was trying to flag as inappropriate. You know the rest. The photo link was inadvertently pasted into the customer support tweet.

This is the cost of not paying attention to what you're sharing on social media.

Final thoughts

One way to curtail potential issues on social media is by taking advantage of the many social-media tools that are out there.

After all, if you take the time to create a strategy and schedule out your posts in advance of them being shared with your audience, you can keep an eye on what's going out into the world, and stop offending posts before they ever get shared. For instance, BuzzBundle is a feature-rich application that allows you to generate more traffic to your site by engaging with your audience on blogs, forums, popular social media sites and more.

Despite the errors that many businesses have committed, and will continue to commit, on social media, it is a powerful tool for growing your business, and one you should be taking advantage of. Learn from the mistakes others have made. If this doesn't enable you to avoid errors completely, it should at least help you cut down on posts that have the potential to damage your brand.

Related: The 3 Ways Smart Social Media Accelerates Startup Success

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

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