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Five common social media fails and what they teach us

Social media mishaps aren’t uncommon, but when it comes to your company’s reputation, what’s said on social media sites can be particularly damaging.

It’s why any business with a social media presence would benefit from having a social media policy in place, as well as limiting access to those staff that have had some degree of social media training (and possess more than a modicum of common sense!).

Generally, a social media policy should contain guidance for employees as to your company’s expectations of their behavior and communication online. It can also help staff to more effectively communicate company values, and allow an organisation to allocate responsibility for content control and approval.

While there’s no guarantee that everyone will represent the company exactly as you want, a social media policy certainly helps employees to get it right. Here’s five times social media guidelines might’ve prevented embarrassment and potential reputational damage to the organisations in question, and what we can learn from their mistakes.

Getting involved in cringey hashtag-hijacking

Any good social media manager knows that an important tip for engagement is to use relevant trending hashtags.

The keyword here being ‘relevant’. When a member of the social media team at Homebase shoe-horned the trending ‘#RIPPRINCE’ hashtag onto a cheerful customer service tweet the day after the singer’s death.

social media fails

Predictably, the retailer found itself on the receiving end of a social media backlash.

The lesson: People controlling your organisation’s social media content need to be savvy but also need to have a huge dose of common sense and good judgement. While it isn’t foolproof, it reduces the chances of an employee making a seemingly harmless error in judgement that could cause embarrassment for your company.

Generally, using a dead celebrity for news-jacking purposes rarely ends well and is best avoided. In fact, any attempt at piggybacking onto a trending hashtag needs to be appropriate and carefully considered. If in doubt leave it out.

Underestimating the potential stupidity of your staff

Sometimes, your employees may choose to promote your organisation on their own personal social media profiles. This can be a great way to boost your brand, as our blog on a socially connected workforce explains.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case when the manager of Red Door bar in Liverpool posted an offensive image, suggesting victims of domestic violence could get two for one cocktails.

Even though he posted from a personal page and not the company’s channels, Red Door was inundated with complaints and was forced to issue an apology to the Liverpool Echo.

The lesson: A social media policy should include detailed guidelines for employees using social media to promote your brand from their personal profiles, too. It may even suggest employees distance their views from the views of the company using a disclaimer.

In the above example a social media policy could have avoided an employee causing widespread offence, but even in less extreme cases it would ensure employees posting on behalf of your company are communicating your key messages and using the correct language and terminology.

Being lax with account access

Hell hath no fury like an employee scorned – something HMV discovered when a member of staff live-tweeted the mass firing of employees to the company’s 60,000 followers.

The tweets quickly went viral and new tweets re-appeared as quickly as they were deleted, suggesting passwords hadn’t been changed.

Considering the social media manager was one of the 60+ employees to lose their jobs, it was clear HMV had no process in place to take back control of its social media accounts.

The lesson: Even if you take a crisis situation out of the equation, social media accounts need to be safeguarded in case of employees leaving the business. A social media policy would set out this process.

In HMV’s case, employees had direct access to the corporate Twitter account, while a policy which involved use of a social media management system such as HootSuite would have reduced the risk of the accounts being hi-jacked and allowed HMV to take back control more easily.

The secondary lesson here is that social media must be factored into any crisis communication plan.

Not reviewing scheduled tweets

The ability to schedule social media posts can be a useful tool, allowing social media managers to plan content in advance and take part in relevant conversations outside of office hours.

So Qantas Airways’ social media team were probably just being organised when they pre-scheduled posts encouraging followers to tweet their ideal luxury flight experience and win a prize.

Examples of badly timed tweets from Qantas Airways

And it would have been fine, had the airline’s entire fleet not been grounded, leaving thousands of customers stranded, the day before the competition was due to launch. The tweets went ahead and Twitter chaos ensued.

The lesson: While we advocate pre-planning when it comes to your social media strategy, sometimes campaigns will need to be updated at the eleventh hour. Be mindful of external factors and how they may affect how your planned content is received, then adjust scheduled posts accordingly.

This isn’t limited just to goings-on within your organisation; consider what’s happening in current affairs too. For example, when in the wake of major incidents that cause loss of life, light-hearted and upbeat social media tweets about your latest success story could be deemed insensitive.

Again, clear social media guidelines and training will ensure employees are aware of their responsibilities and reduce the risk of an ill-timed tweet slipping through the net.

Responding badly to customer feedback

Nobody likes to receive criticism on social media, but there are ways to handle complaints.

Manchester restaurant 47 King Street offered a masterclass in how NOT to respond to a negative review when it called a group of complainers “cheap chav trash” who “wouldn’t know fine dining if it slapped them in their ugly faces.”

Needless to say, people didn’t react well, the Manchester Evening News ran a scathing story, and the restaurant had to delete all its social media pages due to the backlash.

The lesson: A social media policy should include a plan on how to deal with an attack on social media. It should define who is responsible for dealing with online criticism, detail the steps to be taken, and outline a typical response.

That way, you can ensure complaints aren’t missed and are handled in an effective and appropriate way. I have covered handling social media complaints in one of my previous blogs.

Written by Laura Cullen, at Freshfield

For more information, please contact the Freshfield team at or call us on 01772 888400.

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