It’s every social media manager’s nightmare. One tweet taken out of context. One Facebook post with a catastrophic grammatical error. One good-natured joke that offends legions of social media users. One accidental check-in at the strip club down the street on your company’s Foursquare account instead of your own. Before you know it, without any malicious intent, you’ve managed to spearhead the biggest PR disaster in your company’s history, in 140 characters or less.
The social media screw-up has become pretty legendary. The news seems to be flooded with examples of people making poor social media choices and putting their brands’ reputations at risk. From Gilbert Gottfried to Anthony Weiner, social media snafus are everywhere, and they can mean serious harm to your company and your career.
First, let's face facts: The social media faux pas happens. Hopefully it won't happen to you, but it might. In case it ever does, here are a few tips for dealing with it.
1. The Best Defense is a Smart Offense
This sounds like a no-brainer, but the best way to avoid a social media scandal is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. The world of social media is a world of immediacy. It’s entirely too easy to blast out a post without taking the time to think through any potential repercussions. Instead of broadcasting a tweet as soon as it comes to mind, run it by a few other people in your office. What you think is funny, someone else might find offensive. An embarrassing homonym you didn’t catch might be saved by a sharp co-worker.
Always remember, once you send a message through social media, you lose control of it. Take a few extra minutes to evaluate what you’re about to say before you say it. It’s the last chance you have to make it right. A judicious second opinion on your tweet could be the difference between employment and unemployment. Just ask Gilbert Gottfried.
2. Fess Up
When you’re caught in a social media snafu, your first instinct may be to try to cover it up, delete the tweet and pretend like it didn’t happen, or swear to the world that it wasn’t your fault. Like the saying goes, “Deny, deny, deny,” right?
Wrong. Lying only delays the inevitable, and it makes the situation infinitely worse. No matter how quickly you delete your tweet, someone saw it, and there’s probably already a screenshot of it zipping around the ‘Net. Pushing the blame off on someone else will just make you look that much worse when the truth comes out (and it always does). Exhibit A: Former Representative Anthony Weiner.
If you make a mistake, admit it. Being up front about the error right away is a good step toward earning back a little of your credibility.
3. Respond Immediately
Like I mentioned above, social networks are “act now” platforms. As soon as your social media mistake is decried as offensive, you need to take action. Delete the offensive post and issue an immediate statement through the same social channel on which you posted the harmful message. If you posted a poorly conceived tweet, the eyes of the world will be on your Twitter account looking for evidence of it. Use that attention to state your regret. Odds are, your company will want to formulate a formal statement apologizing for your oversight, but even a tweet of “We sincerely apologize for any harm our message has caused, we will release a full statement shortly” will go a long way toward diffusing the situation. The longer you wait to act, the more your problem is going to spread. Acting quickly is key to repairing the damage. Nivea will tell you the same thing.
4. Listen to Your Fans
Once you’ve reacted to the public outcry by admitting your mistake and apologizing openly, you may need to take active steps to make amends. Your social media fans will probably have some ideas on how you might atone. Sure, some of them will probably be full of unreasonable bloodlust, but sift through those replies and comments and look for any suggestions that are feasible and rational. After all, they’re the ones you offended with your message; the least you can do is let them know you’re open to working with them directly to rectify the situation.
5. Try Not to Dwell
Okay, so you screwed up. I mean, you really screwed up. It’s not good, but you know what? It happens. It’s your responsibility to make things as right as they can be after a social media snafu, but when you’ve done all you can, it’s time to move on. It won’t take long before people stop talking about your mistake, and you’ll need to focus your energies on making your next social media strategy strong (and safe) to put some extra distance between you and your wayward tweet. Hopefully the experience has taught you how to approach social media with a smart offense to avoid a hard defense and you’ve come away from it as a smarter social marketer.
What are some of the infamous social media mistakes you think were handled well (or not well enough)? Tell us in the comments below!