How Social Media Can Ruin Your Brand’s Online Reputation

5 minute read

For years marketing gurus have shouted from the mountaintops that social media is a crucial form of brand marketing. And hey, why wouldn’t they? From Fortune 500 businesses to mom and pop shops, social media provides unprecedented direct access to customers, allowing for powerful community and relationship building. Done right, it’s also a very natural form of marketing — one that gives businesses the space to speak in a manner that’s true to them and stand out for being who they are. It’s also downright engaging, as businesses can do everything from having interesting conversations to creating fun, interactive contests and games. Beat that, radio ads.

But here’s the catch: it’s not always done right. In fact, sometimes it is done spectacularly wrong, and then it’s all we can do to sit back and watch a business tank in a uniquely intense social media inferno. Let’s take a look at just a few of the most flagrant missteps out there so that you can be sure to sidestep them by a million miles.

Ways Businesses Fail at Social Media

1) Hijacking Events for Self-Serving Messages

Newsjacking is when a post plays off of a trending news story. It can be an effective way of not only finding something to tweet about but also of getting yourself found, as many browsers are already in the midst of searching for terms related to your newsjacked post.

But as Purell found during this year’s Superbowl, tagging onto trending news stories requires sensitivity — something they did not display when they tweeted about the Cleveland Browns’ lackluster performance:

This was all the worse since the company is based in Ohio, so it looked like it was selling out its home team. Twitter exploded with negative responses from fans, and the company issued two separate apologies before they finally stuck with a third one — notably, a full two paragraphs, not posted on social media. Overall, the tweet struck fans as blatantly opportunistic, using their misery as a means to profit. This is the very opposite of the kind of good will online branding can bring a company.

What This Means for You:

Trending news stories can be great to play off of, but they often are attached to charged emotions. Post with sensitivity, never try to profit off of the misery of your potential customers, and never — never — abandon the home team!

2) Sharing Inappropriate Things With Customers

There’s getting intimate with customers and there’s getting intimate with customers. US Airways distinctly did the latter back in April, when a photo of a woman’s private parts were “accidentally” tweeted to a customer who had complained — and, if that wasn’t bad enough, to a second customer, too. Whether or not the employee tweeted the photo as a “screw you” to the customers or accidentally, is unclear, as the company offered only this explanation:

Of course, when it comes to private parts, intent matters little. There was no escaping this snafu, and the general public reveled in the misstep, with thousands of retweets and favorites.

What This Means for You:

To say “don’t text photos of your private parts to customers” is a little too obvious. Instead, I’ll keep the advice more on the “keep your tweets polite and appropriate” end of the spectrum. And for the love of all that is holy, if you’re going to sext, don’t do it on a work phone. You’re just asking for a disaster.

3) Not Thinking the Campaign Out

It’s always a cringe worthy moment when you spot marketing managers who’ve drunk the social media kool-aid but haven’t thought deeply about customizing the tenets they’ve learned for their industry. The NYPD provided a prime example of this when it invited followers to submit photos of themselves with members of the NYPD. You don’t have to be an Occupy Wall Street protestor to anticipate photo submissions like this:

In other cases, like Newton Hospital’s Puppy Auction, good intentions begin on a flier and end in a flood of social media outrage. Really, did they not think that people would have a problem with auctioning off puppies without any regard to where they were placing them? Really?

What This Means for You:

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: you’ve got to think before you tweet. And by that I don’t mean to think simply about whether or not that one tweet will make a few people titter; I mean think about all possible outcomes of what you post. Who is your target audience? What do they enjoy reading about? What do they need to know? What motivates them? Who outside of your target audience is watching what you post, and how will they react? Perhaps more importantly, who are you as an organization? Are you at all controversial? If so, don’t leave it open to the world to flood your feed!

4) Generating a Content Backlash

Sometimes, it’s not the social media post but the content it’s promoting that generates a backlash. That, at least, was the case when Vogue featured Kanye and Kim on their cover. In fact, it’s surprising the Twitter fail whale didn’t make an appearance given how flooded the service was with tweets like:

Others — namely, Seth Rogen and James Franco — were more creative, making their own iconic cover, which featured their faces instead. Vogue was so soundly critiqued and mocked, the misstep even generated a fair bit of negative press in the more traditional media.

What This Means for You:

What I’ve said before about knowing your brand applies here, with the added message that you should stick to the highest of standards. When your customers have come to know you for a certain level of quality, they’ll be disappointed when that’s not what you give them, and — trust me — they will destroy you for it.

The Takeaway

Social media is a powerful platform, but to make the most of it and avoid its many pitfalls, it’s important to align your brand messaging with the things that are important your audience. To do that, you have to know what that is in the first place. To get started, try giving this guide to creating the right impression online a browse, which will take you through every step of the process. And don’t worry, with a little forethought, you’ll dominate the Twittersphere (in a good way!) in no time.

Jessica Edmonson is a content marketer from Distilled, a creative online marketing company. She enjoys sharing topics on content marketing and building an online brand. You can circle her on G+ here.