Six costly social media mistakes and how you can avoid them

Hardly a day goes by without another business ending up in the news because of a social media fail.

This month we saw the Victorian Taxi Association’s #YourTaxis campaign crash spectacularly on Twitter, with the platform’s users responding to the hashtag with a barrage of negative comments and anecdotes about their experiences with cabs in Melbourne. This played right into the hands of the taxi industry’s disruptive competitor, Uber.

As social media continues to become an increasingly important part of how businesses build brand and engage consumers, it falls upon those in charge of marketing and social media strategies to make sure they protect their brand against the costly fallout of a major social media gaffe. These kinds of mistakes can derail marketing campaigns and badly tarnish the reputation of a business.

Here are six common social media strategy mistakes made by businesses to watch out for:

Responding in an aggressive or defensive manner to criticism

One of the benefits of social media is that it has allowed small business owners to come out and really stamp their personality on their business brand. This can work wonderfully well for some, but can be disastrous for others.

Often with small businesses it comes down to the business owner or marketing manager to moderate the comments people leave on social media. Whoever is in charge of this has to keep their wits about them at all times. A flippant remark or an ill-conceived idea of a joke or banter can quickly devolve into a social media fiasco and the goodwill you’ve managed to build through your social media following could quickly be lost.

Responding to comments in an aggressive or defensive manner can put you offside with followers and paint the business as being out of touch with users, arrogant or petty. Take time to compose how you respond to comments, especially those that are critical of your business. As difficult as it might be, try not to take negative comments personally, as this will only make you more likely to sound shrill or combative.

You should not put up with nasty or trolling comments, but remember that in the age of digital media, smart businesses are constantly engaged in a conversation with customers – you will have to take the good with the bad and respond accordingly.

Posting objectionable material (racist, sexist, etc)

The authenticity that can be conveyed by clever social media postings can soon be undone if the posts aren’t so clever, or if they veer into contentious areas, or are plain outright offensive.

This is where so-called “filter bubble’’ thinking plays a part in how we conduct our affairs online. What may appear to be absolutely innocent to you and your colleagues or family and friends might not appear that way to everyone out on the internet. Again, this can be difficult to police as one of the great things about social media is how immediate and interactive it is: an event happens and your business can jump onto Facebook and put out a response. Brilliant.

But with that speed comes danger. That post you put up which you and a colleague thought was so hilarious has suddenly been picked up by a group that doesn’t share your sensibility. The post has now gone viral and the name of your company is mud among a fair section of social media users.

Once more, don’t hide your personality away, but do make sure that what you are posting is not inadvertently grossly offensive. Think about what you are posting, and if you’re at all in doubt about its suitability, have someone else have a look, or don’t post and save yourself the headache.

Marketing stunts gone wrong

Your social media strategy should play an important part in amplifying the benefits of your broader marketing activities. Social media channels give you an excellent means to get your marketing campaigns across to an audience when integrated with other digital marketing or more traditional mediums.

Be aware that with integrated campaigns you will have to deal with the fallout from a marketing campaign across a range of platforms. A misfiring TV ad or a poorly conceived competition promotion will spill into your social media channels – so be prepared to clean up on social media networks the mess you make elsewhere.

Get the details right

You are now a publisher, and as such, you have to accept many of the responsibilities that go with publishing material. You will probably be hounded by grammar pedants over simple spelling mistakes. People will question your claims about all manner of things, including your product claims. Eagle-eyed observers will quickly point out you have written the wrong dates for an upcoming promotion or event.

The immediacy and ease of social media can lull us into a sense of complacency. Write a post, add a picture, and click “post”. What could be simpler?

Check the details of what you’re posting. People share posts and often rely on the information you are giving them to plan and schedule their lives. Be a reliable and trusted source of information and people will keep coming back to your page – burn them once and watch them tell their friends about it.

Keep everyone on the same page

Quite often the communications team in a business might engage a marketing firm, which then might engage a specialist digital firm to look after the social media channels of the business. Lines of communication can get tangled and quickly end up in a social media strategy mess, with the brief and idea of what the business’s brand is all about consequently lost and muddled in the double handling and Chinese whispers that can take place.

Make sure that everyone working across your social media strategy is on the same page. This is important because the tone and style of your brand needs to be communicated in a consistent manner if it is to connect and resonate with consumers. Aside from the practical stuff-ups that can come from having too many people stirring the pot, brand message can be badly diminished if everyone’s not singing from the same song sheet.

Watch your #hashtags

We all love a good #hashtag. However, as in the case of the #YourTaxis debacle, a hashtag can quickly be hijacked or ridiculed in ways that can make your brand a laughing stock among social media users.

None of us want to end up with something like the hashtag poor Scottish singer Susan Boyle was lumped with for her album launch in 2012: #susanalbumparty.

Once again, think about what you’re putting out there, review it, and get someone else (preferably not the person sitting next to you tittering about the same jokes as you all day) to have a look.

A bit of common sense can guide you most of the way through a basic social media strategy. But if you’re company is really ramping things up and putting a lot more time and effort into social, it might be time to think about hiring an experienced digital marketing company to handle things for you.

Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award. See more at:



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