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6 Social Media Rules That Will Steer You Clear of Failure

Whether you’re playing with sticks in the backyard or building a twitter presence, the old adage “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye” couldn’t be more true.

Oh yes dear readers, don’t fool yourselves. Social media marketing may seem relatively harmless and quaint, but there are oh so many ways it can all go wrong.

If we’re being honest this is arguably the case for anyone in a customer-facing role. But the faceless and large-scale nature of social media makes it a touch easier to go sideways without realizing it.

On that note, if you want to see some of the most memorable and spectacular social media failures, be sure to subscribe and check out next week’s article!

But for now, let’s educate ourselves about how NOT to behave on social media so you don’t become the next Amy’s Baking Company.

Amy's Baking Company

Rule #1: Don’t try to capitalize on tragedy. Just don’t.

You’d be amazed by how many often this happens.

Don’t get me wrong, when I see a trending hashtag I’m certainly tempted to get a word in edgewise. Who wouldn’t love a bloated audience for corporate tweets?!

Here’s the catch: you need to take the time to make sure you know exactly what the hashtag is about.

Those of us that don’t have debacles under our belt have this simple solution to thank.

Before crafting a witty and relevant tie-in to the brand I represent, I always take a solid look at the hashtag and the conversation to ensure there’s no chance I’m mistaken about what it represents.

Here’s a general rule of thumb to follow: If the topic has to do with people dying, don’t use it to promote your brand.

Sounds like common sense right? Well, that’s because it is.

History teaches us however, that there are plenty of knuckleheads who don’t have much of that in reserve.

Rule #2: Be careful with automated activities.

I doubt you’d be surprised if I told you there are a lot of downfalls with automating social media marketing.

There’s a lot to be gained of course, but you have to be mighty careful with how you apply this powerful but dangerous tool.

One fellow at HootSuite was nice enough to do an in-depth study of attempting to automate his Instagram account activity.

While his findings were quite hilarious, they also serve as a cautionary tale.

“You can’t automate comments. The potential for awkward or damaging situations is just too great. You don’t want to be posting on teenager selfies. You just don’t.” – Evan LePage

Of course, you also have to be careful with automating social marketing since it technically goes against the terms of service for most major social platforms.

But rules were meant to be broken right? Right?!?

Regardless of your stance on anarchy, let’s agree that caution is advised when there’s no one steering the ship.

Case in point, automated replies to mentions can be counter-productive when people are writing complaints or seeking reassurance or a sincere apology.


Proceed at your own risk!

Rule #3: Find out what a hashtag is about before jumping on board.

Hashtags are so freaking cool. Problem is that they’re also easy to misunderstand.

As such, it’s not surprising that some of my favorite gaffes from next week’s collection of social media disasters are caused by brands failing to understand a hashtag they decided to contribute something to.

Remember when DiGiorno jumped in on that trending hashtag about domestic violence? Yeah.

This could have been easily averted if the people managing their twitter account had taken the time to look into the meaning of the hashtag before using it in a tweet to promote their product.

Clumsy and lazy! Don’t be either of these things.

The internet has quite the memory and it’s really hard to live down these types of mistakes. It may not be the end of the world, but these situations can blow up really fast if the right (or wrong depending on your perspective) people decide to go on a mob-justice crusade about it.

Rule #4: Suck it up and issue a real apology.

Customer service 101 folks. The customer is always right!

This motto came into existence not because it’s fair, nor because it’s the answer to every complaint situation.

But it’s such a powerful general philosophy that it behooves anyone in a customer-facing role to know it and know it well.

I'm Sorry

Frequently, dissatisfied customers simply need to feel that they are

  • heard
  • acknowledged
  • sympathized with

In order to meet this quota, business owners must take responsibility.

Defensiveness will not serve a business well in these situations. It’s in everyone’s best interest to suck it up and issue a sincere apology, even if you don’t personally feel like any blame lies with you or the company you represent.

Rule #5: Don’t be so emotional.

As the representative of a business entity, it’s quite literally your job to “be the bigger person”.

I’m a pretty big fan of stoicism so forgive me for the antiquated quote, but it’s just so damn relevant!

When customers put a fire underneath your backside, it will very rarely do you any good to sink to their level of emotional distress.

Instead, be the bigger person. Take responsibility. Make them feel important and heard. Before you know it you’ll have a strong reputation even if you’ve hit a few stumbling blocks along the road.

There will always be bumps in the road, what matters is how you handle them.

Rule #6: Use common sense.

This is the easiest of our lessons today, and my personal favorite.

Truth be told it also sort of encapsulates all of the prior rules as well.

9 out of 10 public relations fails could have been avoided if the guilty party had either been paying attention or employing some good ol’ common sense.

Everything doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes some street smarts is all it takes to keep your head above water.

If you:

  • Get a complaint → Write a level-headed reply
  • Get a compliment → Thank them in kind
  • Contribute to a discussion → Make it meaningful

It’s really that simple.

Putting These Social Media Rules Into Action

The final step of today’s lesson is to remember these rules the next time you’re interacting on social media as the representative of a brand.

By following these rules, you should be pretty safe from the internet lynch mob.

Of course, there’s always a chance you might get so unlucky that even the most level-headed advice won’t save you. But here’s to hoping for the best.

Social media is a blast and can be a humongous boon for many businesses. Get out there and have some fun!

Marketing jack-of-all-trades, ascendant wordsmith, and self-proclaimed World’s Best Dog Dad. I write about SEO, social media and content marketing.